Monday, June 16, 2014

REACHING FOR A STRANGER



When someone starts starts shouting on the subway, I usually freeze up and pray that it ends soon. But not this time.

A few days ago, there were crazy problems on Manhattan-bound subways, and we passengers were being bumped from train to train and sent back into Brooklyn. 

One woman loudly proclaimed that she had been on 5 trains, and was being sent back to Brooklyn for the second time.  She started cursing and shouting, then began to cry.  People were either staring at her or looking away in discomfort.  I mean, nobody is supposed to act like that in public - right?  And I know that there is this training a lot of us get to mind our own business in public places, especially if someone seems like they're on edge.

The woman said out loud, but to no one in particular, that she was supposed to be picking up her daughter from school in Manhattan.  I thought about going over to her, hesitated for a minute, then finally decided to head her way.  Sitting across from this woman, I offered to go above ground with her and call her daughter's school.  Her story was pretty involved, but I just listened and told her several times that it wasn't her fault.  She got calmer and softened. I've felt like this woman before - enraged and panicked at the same time - but kept the feelings tucked inside.

It's definitely an interesting challenge to intervene in spots where people could use a hand in the moment and out in the public sphere.  Maybe the mom being super harsh with her child on the subway is actually overwhelmed and could use some friendly contact with another adult.   Maybe the teens who are being disruptive at the park could use an ally to come over and joke around with them.

Of course, it always makes sense to use one's discretion when approaching a tense scenario.  Maybe it's good to recruit  others to help in a dangerous situation instead of trying to handle it solo. But I think we're all more capable, creative and courageous than we think we are when it comes to being thoughtful in the direction of "strangers" out in public.  

We can always try, and make mistakes, but it's sometimes better to actually do something and learn from the experience than to be passive out of fear.

We don't always have to know each other in advance in order to offer comfort or assistance to each other.  We don't have to occupy an official role, title or position to come to someone's aid in a public space.   Appoint yourself whatever title you need to step up to the plate when a situation needs your courage and intelligence.  Be a Minister of Kindness in the workplace.  Be a Keeper of the Peace on the subway and in the streets. 

I'm curious to hear about where you've thoughtfully intervened in a tense public situation. What was the outcome? What did you learn from the experience?

Let's support each other to be wisely brave out there in the parks, subways, grocery stores and sidewalks.  Our communities need us to stay on our toes and ready to take action at a moment's notice. 

Whether it lasts 30 seconds or 30 minutes, your act of courage in someone else's direction could make all the difference in the world.

Photo credit: sizmanabc.blogspot.com
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