Tuesday, September 29, 2015
A few days ago I was in Dollar Tree picking up the early edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday newspaper, when I remembered that I needed rubber gloves for a particularly nasty cleaning project. As I walked back the aisle toward the cleaning supplies I observed a man, seemingly around my age (middle-aged), putting food stuffs (spaghetti, spaghetti sauce) into his backpack. He eyed me nervously, but I just continued on.
Later, when I was relating the incident to my wife, I asked her if she thought I should've done something. What? She asked.
Should I have offered to buy the man food. This is what's been needling me since that morning. The trials of Jean Valjean, harshly imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, resonates too strongly for me to even think of turning the man in to store staff. My only two alternatives were to ignore him, which is what I did, or to offer my assistance, which I did not. I don't feel a responsibility to the store, to any chain store, to guard against shoplifting, or to ensure that they throttle every single penny of profit from their inventory. I'm not an employee.
But I am a human being, and I feel sure that this was a fellow human being in need, and instead of reaching out to him, I brushed passed him and continued on.
Why? Partly because I felt uncomfortable even acknowledging what he was doing, and that I had seen him, because he seemed ashamed - or was he not ashamed, and I was merely projecting this onto him? Am I so mired in conventionalism that whatever societal norms I prescribe to, the whole of the world must as well? I might be over-thinking this event because I'm ashamed that I didn't offer to buy his food. I'm foisting my shame on him, because I can't and don't know what he was feeling/thinking.
Now I only wonder what I would do if confronted by the same scenario again.