Friday, September 08, 2006

An Impulse to Help

I’ve noticed this thing about myself. When I have a desire to reach out to someone for something that’ll make them feel better, I stop and consider it a hundred times before I act upon it. Why?

Be it a stranger on the street or a close friend, I have different excuses to stop myself from doing good.

I little while ago, a friend of mine really needed me to be there for her. And I knew a listening ear was needed. But all the while, I felt that another close person would be that listener. She couldn’t possibly need me, when she had that support. I’m not going to be good enough to help her… she might not really want to tell me about it… Low self-confidence is still a poor reason to not help someone. How often have we said, “But what could I possibly do to help?” The strangest thing about what I’ve written here is that any decent person ought to be asking, “How could you not help your friend?!” But I can think of umpteen examples when we thwart this very impulse. In each of those instances, if you view them in hindsight, you’ll repeatedly face the same question…
how could I not help?

Imagine you see a beggar boy on the road. Your emotions are a unique mix of indifference, pity, anger, frustration. Some impulse in you wants to give him that one rupee, maybe the half packet of biscuits in you bag… but you stop… what will he do with the money? Use it to buy drugs, you think, not really too sure as to when you formulated that idea. We mustn’t be encouraging begging, you’ll think... A whole gamut of thoughts and emotions flood your brain and swamp out that tiny flickering impulse to just give that lean hand a biscuit and that wan face a smile. Even as I’m writing this, my mind is scoffing at me…A smile! What good can a smile do for a wretched existence?! Why, why have we become so cynical?

Another situation. You enter the train and hear screams and cries from the compartment. Someone has injured themselves… you could help her get to a nearby hospital or you assume someone else will do it. Someone is lying unconscious on the road… someone else will pick him up…police ka locha ho jayega. Same pattern. The tsunami of cynicism drowns out your poor little fishing boat of the mere thought to help even before it touched the waters.

The Mumbai blasts. Now here is a situation where everybody helped and everybody wanted to help. But that’s what the newspapers will say. No one covers the stories of the many, many people who sat at home, or sat at Café Coffee Day and asked “But what could I possibly do?” I was one who asked myself that, even I sat a stones throw from KEM hospital. What did I tell myself? Oh! the entire residents’ hostel is there, I’m not really needed. I need to find out how my family is… I’m safe here let me stay, it might be dangerous to venture out… Well all these maybe reasonable excuses. But that’s what they are; excuses. Someday very soon I’m going to ask myself, “How could you not have gone?”

Well, I can think of example after example of similar situations. There is a tiny spark which says to you, go and do something good. But even as you hear it, the ‘intellect’ takes over. Sometimes it is cynicism (Hah! Like that would really matter!). Sometimes it is low self-esteem (I can’t possibly be the one who’ll make the difference). Sometimes it is indifference and sometimes it is just our old friend, ego (they don’t really need my help, it’ll be turned down). Very often these things happen in our heads over split seconds. Only much later, if we happen to think over it, the voice inside will say, how could you not help. But by then, the signal is already green. The joy that can be experienced by doing a good turn is very sweet but, in spite of that, of the fifteen do-good impulses we’ll have, we’ll act on one! It’s almost surprising how we allow ourselves to function with such frustration of not having done right, especially since acting on the impulse would not only have been ‘right’, it would also have felt good! How do we so often and consistently stop ourselves and others from feeling good? It boggles the mind.

I’m making a mistake by writing this piece using the pronoun ‘we’. It is wrong to assume that all people are this way. My apologies to them. And if one such is reading this then, you must know that you are quite exceptional and I wish I was like you.


shruti said...

experienc is a tuff teacher,it gives u th test first and then teaches uth lesson!
If "we" learn thru these experiences,NO experience is BAD :)


Anonymous said...

hey di...
don't lose heart. it reminds me of a rather disheartening (atleast to my ego) incident that i was a part of. During my EMS posting, as i was travelling by train to KEM for a night duty... second class. this lil girl, must be about 10 yrs comes with a basket of cheap earrings and buckles - i thrive on these hawkers. the lady in front of me was apparently acquainted with the lil girl. and as they were talking - i don't know where this wave of my-bit-to-society surged upon me. i asked the girl her name and took out my scrap book. I wrote her name in hindi as a whole and individual letters, also breaking up the letters as a guide for how to write them. and i proudly showed this to the lil girl... lil girl, this is ur name. she stared at it, and then looks at me wistfully and says... oh this has no use for me. don't try to send me to school. been there, done that. don't show me dreams that i know i can never live - tht was the exact line she told me... and believe me- it was a slap across my face. i tried explaining patiently, that maybe not today, but tomorrow she will probably realize the value of her knowing how to write her name. she took the paper from me, unconvinced... put it in her pocket and ran away. i don't know whether she intended to keep it or has thrown it away... i don't know what to make of the whole incident. but i do know, that im never going to stop doing this. no, im not out to be a reformer - but i just wish tht these lil urchins would understand the power of knowing to read and write. try it next time - maybe u'll have a better experience.

Sumedh said...

Identifying a problem is the first step to conquering it. I think to look at yourself impartially and tell yourself that there's a problem - now that's exceptional.

Congrats on a well-written and thought-provoking piece.

Plum Jade said...

I really like the moment in the beginning when you identify the issue, that you think before you offer help to someone. I don't think that you have crossed the bridge though in terms of connecting overthinking before lending a hand, with having low self-esteem.

This blog impresses me for its ambition.