I believe in compassion. This means that I believe in stopping to help someone up when they fall, instead of hurrying by. I believe in giving a homeless person my spare change. I believe in smiling at strangers that I pass on the sidewalk.
I was recently in San Diego, California for a convention. I was standing on a street corner with friends, enjoying a carefree night out, when we were approached by a woman in ragged clothes. She explained that she was diabetic, and asked us for money so that she could get something to eat. I scrounged in my wallet and gave her what I had. As she walked away, one of my friends scolded me. “She’s probably going to go buy drugs with that money,” he said, shaking his head at what he thought was my gullibility.
I believe in looking at things from different perspectives.
What he didn’t know is what I saw when I looked at that woman.
I saw my father. He would be homeless if it weren’t for my grandparents. My father was laid off, and subsequently had his home foreclosed on. Without a college education, he has been unable to find another job. This leaves him at 55 years of age, living with his parents. And if our family was different, or if my grandparents were no longer alive, my father could easily be in a similar situation.
I saw my mother. Diabetic, arthritic, riddled with health problems. If it weren’t for Medicare, disability benefits, and subsidized housing, she could easily be like the woman who risked her safety to ask me for help. She doesn’t have much, but she gets by with what she has. When I saw that woman I thought of my mother asking for food from a group of strangers. Strangers who could easily hurt her, physically or mentally. It isn’t as easy to ask for help as one might think.
Given my situation, it would be easy for me to become bitter and selfish because my parents are unable to support me. However, I like to think that it gives me unique lens to view life through.
Yes, through someone else’s lens that woman could be a drug addict. Through my eyes, she could be someone’s mother; a good person who is struggling to survive within our society. The thing is, you never really know. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I believe that, unfortunately, bad things do happen to good people, and that you should help others whenever you can.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.