I believe in helping people. But I have also come to realize that it comes with its own limitations.
This story happened six years ago on the street in front of the Taipei Main Train Station. When I was 18 years old, I had to prepare an exam to enter a university in Taiwan. Every day on my way to study, I passed an old handicapped lady who sold chewing gum. I always bought a piece of gum from her because I thought I was helping her. I thought my few coins might help her get by. I thought this action was wonderful because I had learned from school that people have to enjoy helping one another.
On Bulletin Board System (BBS), a very popular Taiwanese chatting platform, I read a story about that old handicapped chewing gum lady. I was shocked when I read that the lady was controlled by a gang and that she had to give all her money to them every day. When she failed to do so, they would beat her. Those gangs usually control old people, children, or handicapped people to sell chewing gum or lottery to earn people’s sympathy. I decided not to buy anymore chewing gum from her because I thought that if the lady didn’t have any money to pay them, they would leave her alone. I thought this was another way to help her.
After I finished the exam I left Taipei to go to Taichung, and I lost sight of the old lady. Yet two years later, my heart was crushed when I read on BBS that the chewing gum lady was killed. She was beaten to death by gangs because one day all her money and property was stolen; she had nothing to give the gangs so they treated her cruelly and brutally.
After reading this story, one question kept revolving in my mind. When I decided not to buy anything from her, did I truly help her or did my action lead her to be the victim of violence? If I kept buying gum from her, she could give money to the gangs and escape from the gangs’ violence. How often didn’t she have enough money to give them and how often did they treat her brutally? But if gangs earn more money this way, they will control more people and this becomes a vicious cycle.
This experience let me understand that help is not always positive. Sometimes help may hurt people. However, it doesn’t mean we have to ignore people and refuse to help them. The truth is we are not able to help in some situations like this one. The individual can only go so far, its help needs to be relayed by the government. I realized that the individual and the state need to work hand in hand when it comes to helping those who are marginalized by society, like the old woman. I believe if people can give their hands to make other people’s lives better, that is a worthwhile thing for us to do.
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