#8 I'm sorry you asked.

by | Jun 2, 2008 | Blog | 0 comments

My advice to “ask” for help keeps backfiring on me—while I back out of my driveway. I’m willing to be a Good Samaritan and lend a hand—especially since I suggest to others who need to be LEAN to ask for help so they can do more with less.  (See blog posting #1: “Ask”—just 7 points in Scrabulous, invaluable elsewhere.) But none of us wants to be a chump. Who has the time to be a sucker when you’ve got your own life, interests, and responsibilities and don’t see any payback in the situation?

The circumstances I’m facing are a sign of the times, namely people who are starting to take public transportation now that the cost of a gallon of gasoline rivals a pound of beef. (See Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit.) These folks probably haven’t climbed on a bus since high school when they reluctantly rode a school bus on days their parents needed the family car. They aren’t used to hanging out and waiting for wheels to come to them on a schedule they don’t control.

So what do they do while they wait for the bus? Look for someone to ambush, who can provide sympathy and maybe something more for their new plight! The opening of my garage door, which is just a few feet away from the bus stop, offers a perfect opportunity. And the more aggressive and impatient of them engage me in conversation, primarily to ask where I’m going so they can mooch a ride.

Friday night, a moocher took the exchange to new extremes. I’m proud to say I took a minute to think before blindly following my own advice and giving help. The request for help was a bit odd.

For example, this individual didn’t play the green card to say she was doing her bit to save the environment, which might have softened me up. Instead, she started telling me she needed to buy a pair of shoes and get home before the Sabbath, and she was concerned the bus wouldn’t come in time to let her keep her shopping schedule. And while I’m a shoe lover, I’m also a realist. These weren’t any shoes she wanted to buy. She wanted a pair of Taryn Rose pumps, which aren’t available in downtown Berkeley where the bus goes. When I responded that I was going in the opposite direction and by the way, Taryn Rose shoes weren’t part of the downtown Berkeley shopping scene, she tried to convince me to go her way anyway.

For once in my life, I stood firm and followed three good practices. One,  I actually set boundaries. Even though I have a hybrid car that gets great gas mileage, I decided I was not going to go out of my way to take a stranger in a totally different direction than my final destination. I did offer to drop her off at a shoe store en route, which doesn’t carry the shoes she wanted, but I thought it was a decent alternative.

When she declined the offer and then suggested another route that might have her special shoes—which was still out of my way and seemed even more ludicrous considering I know all the shoe stores in a 20-mile radius— I kept my boundaries, a second good practice. I also didn’t bother telling her that an able-bodied person could easily walk to this store, as she didn’t seem to grasp logic.

Then, my third good practice: I handled the situation myself. Although I must admit, I muttered to my dog who was sitting in the back seat of the car that it would have been helpful if he could  come to my aid. He was very eager to go to the dog park, which was our only destination. So a snarl, growl or fierce bark on his part to dim her enthusiasm for a free ride would have been a big boon. But oh no, he had to be very placid and just look at me and question, “When can we get our show on the road?”

Luckily, for the dog and me, the bus then pulled up behind our car and the shoe shopper/ moocher said she’d take the bus. She boarded and rode off into the sunset.

I still believe in the importance of asking for help in times of need, but let us all be reasonable. And when in doubt, consult the wonderful book Mayday!, which offers a simple, systematic approach for asking for help.


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