My eldest daughter and I are waiting in line at the chocolaterie. We both love ice cream and we’re discussing which one we would like best. My girl is impatient, giddy, excited. She wants ice cream and she wants it right now! But she can’t have it just yet because the older gentleman right in front of us is not done with his purchase.
He takes his time picking his pralines – the choice is huge and all of them look delicious. Pistachio. Orange liqueur. Coconut. With or without nuts. He can’t make up his mind, but until he does, we can’t get ice cream. My girl grows more and more impatient. “I want ice cream, why do we have to wait for so long?” The gentleman makes his picks, but asks the lady to make another bag of pralines for him, which she does. And then he asks her to gift wrap each little bag separately. She’s not that quick either, the lady behind the counter, and she takes her time, choosing the best fitting box, the right colour of ribbon to go with the chocolate box.
In all honesty, I am growing somewhat impatient too. My child is close to having a tantrum. I have a tram to catch to go back home, errands to run, a dinner to cook. But I wait. Because if that was me, I would appreciate other people’s patience so that I would be able to buy a beautiful gift for someone I care about.
And that’s what I tell my daughter: that we need to wait sometimes, be patient, try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Soon enough, we get our ice cream. I take pistachio and mango, she takes strawberry and vanilla. After all, we had a lot of time to choose our flavours. And then, we’re on our merry way back home.
Since then, I’ve been trying to stick to this one sentence: “If that had been me”. If that had been me, I would want someone to help me, I think when I see a heavily pregnant woman picking something up from the floor. Or when I notice an older gentleman reaching for some item at the supermarket but struggling because his hands are shaking so badly. Or whenever I see someone who may need help. Putting myself in their situation helps me relate to people more, making me get out of my shell and offer help. It’s tricky sometimes. I am an introvert who would rather not talk to people unless she really had to. So asking someone if they need help is not that easy at all. But I do it, because the gratitude and relief people feel when they get the help they need is absolutely amazing.
Of course I can’t always rely on “if that had been me”. Sometimes I think people need help when they’re doing just fine, thank you very much. I once saw a pregnant woman in the street, hugging her belly in pain. She was in the last month, ready to give birth at any time. On the ground beside her was a heavy-looking bag with groceries. I approached her and asked if there was anything I could do. I was afraid that she was having contractions! She said everything was fine, and I really hope it was.
You can’t help someone who doesn’t want or need to be helped.
Neither should “If that had been me” be used to judge other people. “If that was me, I’d never let my children watch TV, eat sweets or behave like this”. Maybe you wouldn’t do these things, but I am sure you’d make other mistakes, so relax.
But when you’re out and about running errands, going about your day, or just going for a walk, look around, notice all these people and ask yourself, “if that was me, what would I need?”. And then go on and ask. Because it’s not really about you: it’s about other people. The very worst that could happen is that they won’t want or need you, but if they do, you’d be glad you asked.
Do you stop to help strangers? How do they react?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Olga Mecking, The European Mama, of The Netherlands.
Photo credit: Richard North. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.