On vacation in the UK, I was stranded with two flat tires, cell phone without a charge and not knowing where to turn or what to do. A stranger came out of the blue – or rather, out of the nearby apartment building – and asked if I needed help. He offered his phone for me to call the rental company, took me to a nearby shop to get new tires, change the tires, and offered me tea and something to eat. He spent nearly two hours with me on a Saturday afternoon when it was evident that he and his wife had other things going on that they could have been attending to.
I’m not sure what motivates a person to go and help another when he sees someone in distress. Although I willingly go to my job every day – and collect a paycheck every two weeks – I have seldom played the role of a Good Samaritan, helping someone out in such a way, taking time out of my life to go help another with no recompense in sight.
Studies have shown that people who are depressed and think too much about their own depression, benefit from “getting out of their negative thoughts” by going and doing things for others. Yet, it would be quite cynical of me to think I was benefiting my UK helper by letting him help me out. Anyway, he didn’t look at all depressed, although I think my helplessness did begin to frustrate him.
Another school of thought is that no one ever does anything for others, but only for their own benefit. We help others only because we want to, we feel good about it, it makes us feel more human. This can be viewed cynically, but it can also give clarity to motives. In relationships, whether they are two hours of one person helping another, or a lifelong commitment between two people, how we give and how we receive reveals not only our own self-interest, but our interest in others.
It is humbling to be on the side of the person being helped. I do not know the motives of the person who helped me in my distress. Perhaps it is not worth trying to guess at it, but rather to simply accept it and say thank you.
Reggie E, MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.