Beliefnet
Everyday Ethics

I ask because today, during lunch, a coworker and I were walking down the street, and we saw a man in a wheelchair, with only one leg, seeming to struggle to make his way down the block.

What did I do? 
I looked away and moved on.  
Why did I do it? 


Maybe the answer is, I’m a horrid person. Or maybe it was because the man smelled completely vile from halfway down the street, and looked borderline insane to boot. And I haven’t been a New Yorker for 35 years to get suckered or involve myself in the mishagos of potentially dangerous people.

Now granted, this guy wasn’t likely to be actively harmful to me (unless he had a partner in some kind of Oliver Twistian pocket-picking scheme, which isn’t as unlikely in NYC as one might think). But I feared a) getting a disease and b) getting into some kind of scuffle with a mentally ill person. I suppose I could have stopped to suss out the situation more instead of scurrying back to the office. But years of wariness and city street-smarts told me to keep moving and mind my own business.
One reason for this attitude is that, when I was just a teenager, a man asked me to give him directions. He had a map and everything. He asked me simply to point out where he was on the city map, and when I did, he reached out and fondled my breast. The horror and disgust I felt were beyond belief. And the anger was monumental. THIS was what I got for being a good Samaritan???  “Eff that,” I thought. People in this town are just too creepy to trust. Altruism is a quality I simply can’t afford.
So, I’m saddened by my own lack of faith in humanity, and by my lack of charitable behavior. The instinct to help is still there (incidentally, I read recently that children as young as 18 months display the instinct to come to others’ aid), but I’m just too jaded to take much of a risk.
Time to move out of NY, perhaps? Or just time to readjust my attitude?
Have you had a similar experience? Let us know!

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