Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Help, not just anybody

I know that a few years ago, I wrestled with a question of the "offer to help." At that point, I was trying to offer it and realized how little I had to provide, were my offer accepted. Today, the tables were turned. I will speak to you now of inverted tables.

This morning, I was walking down the hallway, holding 18 copies of the Merchant of Venice (the Folger edition) and a Spanish textbook. Actually, the textbook was printed in Evanston, IL I think, but it is a textbook for a Spanish class, which I guess would be a 'clase'. As I made my way to the room in which I intended to drop the books, a 10th grade student said "Do you need any help?" I paused for a moment, precariously balancing the books in my arms while I struck a pose.

[INTERRUPTION -- please, please, oh please, do not take what I write as anything demeaning the seemingly altruistic offer to help. I truly appreciate that people, on their own, ask if they can help. What I am about to write should not be taken as any sort of condemnation or mockery of the innate good in people as they attempt to ease the burden of others.]

What a stupid thing to ask, I thought.

I collected myself and looked the student in the eye and asked "And what exactly do you think that you would do to help? You have to go to class. Your class is here and I am headed somewhere else. I was doing fine carrying these until you stepped in my way to ask me to help. You don't know where I am going with these or what resources (if any) I lack -- what are you bringing to the table with your offer. Do I look like I am struggling because I feel fine, but thanks for the vote of no confidence. Seriously, really, what were you thinking when you made that offer?"

The student looked at me, smiled, and said "Huh?" That seemed about right, so I kept walking.

I do really like when people ask if they can help, but offering a favor only buys you credit when it is a reasonable offer that makes sense. You don't get the brownie points if you volunteer to eat my lunch, even though you are volunteering for something. A student asking if I need help carrying some books, unless that student has a cart or knows which door I need opened and can anticipate the need, is offering me nothing.

[INTERRUPTION -- remember...for the love of God, remember, I was deeply touched by the unsolicited offer of help from a student who, wrapped in that student's own life, could have ignored me and not stepped forward to try and make my life easier. I honestly and sincerely am proud of that student and, though I didn't need help at that moment, admire that student more because of the attempt.]

Dumb kid.

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