I remember several years back when Oprah had a big deal on her show about doing random acts of kindness for people. She devoted a few episodes to talking with people who had tried the experiment and how it made them feel. Someone paid the toll for four cars behind them in line at the toll booth. Others carried groceries and performed acts of service. Each person interviewed said they felt uplifted and inspired to continue to find ways to help those around them each day.
At the same time, we often hear news stories about people who were attacked by persons who approached them, offering to help. Television shows portray women who are assaulted by men who volunteer to carry their groceries or help them change a flat tire. I recall another talk show (although which one escapes me) which specifically talked about the dangers of allowing strangers to help you or to get too close to you in any way. The experts on this panel mentioned that if someone seems to be overly helpful, they are most likely a predator seeking your confidence.
So how on earth are we supposed to reconcile these two things?
Sure, I'll offer help ... but I won't be surprised if the person I'm talking to pulls out a stun gun and warns me to stay away?
The other night, I was at Walmart, walking out to my car with a cart of groceries. It was probably ten-thirty at night, not terribly late, but fully dark. I had taken the precaution of parking under a light, as I always do. As I reached my car and prepared to open the trunk, a young man approached me. He was probably in his early twenties, looked fairly well-dressed, and was very friendly.
"Can I help you with that?" he asked.
Immediately the two factions began warring inside me. One part of me said, "Oh, how nice! This young man, who is probably a student at the nearby college, is taking time out of his busy night to offer to help me with my task."
The other voice in my head screamed, "Predator! Run! Flee! Scream! Get away or you'll never be heard from again until they drag the river for you!"
I spoke from instinct. "I'm good, but thanks for the offer."
"Are you sure?" he questioned.
"I'm sure. But thanks."
As he walked away, I just had to laugh. We live in a world where service is becoming rare, where human beings aren't reaching out to each other the way we should. And those who do try? They're labeled as serial killers.
Can we stay safe and still let others into our circle? How do we let others serve us without making ourselves vulnerable?
We've all heard the adage, "Better safe than sorry." I have no proof that the young man in question was just trying to be helpful, and I also have no proof that he's this generation's Ted Bundy. It would be nice if we had a clearer way to determine other's motives and intentions. In the meantime, I think we have to do the best we can. Trust our instincts and listen when we feel we should be cautious. Continue to reach out to those around us when we feel it's appropriate. And as far as trusting young men in parking lots? I'll probably still continue to send them away. Especially if it's dark. Call it paranoia. It probably is.