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Doing Good Isn’t Easy Some Days

A few weeks back I was on a short trip with my family and as some trips go, it had been mildly chaotic getting out of the house, with the crest of the chaos being the moment when we had been on the road close to an hour and I realized – you’ll appreciate this – that my laptop bag was still on the couch. Could have been worse and I tried to take it in stride, turning around to go back for it and mentally adjusting a schedule which luckily wasn’t fixed in stone.

After picking up the laptop bag and being on the road for an hour or so we stopped at McDonalds for a bathroom break and some iced tea. If you’ve traveled with kids you know what it’s like when it’s a combination of them being more than ready to get out of car, more than ready to get into McDonalds, and not being too good at remembering to look both ways in a busy parking lot.

We were just getting out when a woman came up to us asking for directions. Kids tugging on my leg, I explained that we didn’t know the area and started to head inside, and then stopped. I motioned for my wife to grab the kids while I tried to help this person find her way. Not sure why I stopped, maybe because she looked so frazzled. Not sure why I didn’t think to stop sooner, just distracted with life. As I’m trying to find the address on my phone she was sharing her story about being new in town and trying a new route home and so on.

I found the address and the route looked easy enough, about 3 miles and two turns. I showed her the map and pointed to the first turn, explaining that it wasn’t far at all. The McDonalds was at an exit on I-95,you could see the interstate and the overpass she would be taking from where we were standing. She looked at the map,listened, and replied that she just didn’t feel comfortable crossing back over I-95.

I was, as you might expect, taken aback. I tried to explain again that she was very close, but she just shook her head. So I wished her luck and went inside to catch up with family.

Afterward I thought about it, first on the strangeness of not wanting to accept the directions, and then later thinking that I had just not assessed the situation well. Maybe I had mapped it wrong somehow. Maybe she was just afraid of getting more lost. Maybe. But my guess is that she was really lost and needed more than directions and I wasn’t expecting that. I could have led her to the address, or had her call someone, and I didn’t. Should I have? I know in hindsight I wished I had done more.

I try to do good where I can. The hard part about doing good is that it’s easy to feel like you haven’t done enough. I try to remember that I do what I can and that’s better than nothing. Still, I wonder what it’s like from her perspective. Did I help any at all, or just make an already bad day a little bit worse?

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I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Steve Jones on 23 May 2011

It's hard to know in that case. I would think that showing directions, taking time from a busy day, is a reasonable action. Her refusal to accept that seems a little strange,  but to each their own.

Posted by Robert Pearl on 24 May 2011

First, sounds like you were writing about my kids, and I know I didn't blog anything about that recently :-)

Second, it really is hard to try to focus on a strangers request, when you're trying to focus on keeping your kids together, safe and out of trouble.

The woman should have been more accepting, given the fact you went out of your way to help her, out of your family time.  Seem a bit ungracious.

I wouldn't feel too bad. The instinct to do good was there.  As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink (Right, Steve? You know about horses ;-)  

In this case, the horse didn't even want to be led to the water....

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