People are different

In this case, I mean different from one another.

Yesterday a woman frustratedly told me to back the fuck off. When this happened, I was attempting to unwedge her wheelchair from the shop door it was stuck in. I take direction well, so I backed the fuck off and watched as she struggled to get unstuck for a minute and a half, cursing the door as she did so. She escaped, but not before tossing a withering “not everyone wants help.” over her shoulder as the door slammed behind her.

I am a (proud) customer service professional. My personal card says “joy facilitator” because that is one of my most enduring, satisfying, and rewarding hobbies. My bio usually contains the sentence “I like to help.” I have volunteer-itis and rarely turn down a request from a friend to help out at their event, from being a backup wedding officiator to pacing someone for a part of their first marathon to hauling their belongings across town in a Move by Bike.

I’m not trying to brag — I do this stuff because I love it. I identify with helping, and it’s a big part of what I am. I sometimes wonder if there isn’t some truth to this short story by David Brin, that altruism is a disease transferred by blood transfusions — after all, largely altruists give blood. Maybe I’m compelled by something more than a sense of satisfaction and joy that helping gives me? Even if that is the case, I don’t really care.

But the lady stuck in the door made me think. Just because I enjoy helping, does not mean everyone wants help. I even know that not everyone needs help. When asked if I needed help, I used to tell one of my best friends that I certainly didn’t need help, though I would appreciate it. And I think that’s what the lady was getting at — some people are not me. Some people want to make their own way, meet a challenge on their own. And they deserve the right to not have my help thrust upon them.

This is my wake-up call to remember to ask before volunteering aid, but in a wider sense, it’s a reminder to remember that I can’t know everyone’s motivation or success conditions, and that’s both beautifully interesting, and potentially frustrating to me. I don’t need to make it frustrating for them, too.

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