Thinking about that encounter with reality made me think, for a very, very long time. And, gradually, I started to open up to strangers, and help them in any way I could. When I was in China next, I would slip some of my spare change into beggars' cups and monks' bowls. I smiled at hustlers, street workers sweeping the streets, kite salesmen, small salesmen on the sidewalk selling their wares on the walk, and all other people I felt needed cheering up. That would cheer them up, I thought.
However, one thing that holds me back from helping people sometimes, is that little voice of cynicism inside everyone's head. Reading articles about how some beggars don't actually keep their money and are forced to give all their donations to greater crime rings for their safety, homeless people who panhandle for spare change just to buy themselves a beer at the pub come Friday night, and organizations buying and selling human beings just to make them panhandle for profits, has really fueled my cynicism. How do I know that that sad-looking lady squatting in front of the used bookstore isn't actually just using people's spare change to buy her next fix of cocaine? How do I know that the man who needs help with his luggage isn't the next Ted Bundy?
This leads me to my second example. My mom had to get a haircut one day, and so I followed her to the Stanford Mall, because I always need another excuse to go window shopping at Neiman Marcus. When we were walking back to the parking lot, I saw something incredibly strange. I had an innate feeling that something wasn't right about it. There was a lady, who seemed very old and weathered, with long blond hair, pushing a stroller around and talking to people around the parking lot. I was extremely curious, but also extremely wary. Part of me wanted her to stay as far away from me and my mom as possible, and part of me wanted her to come around and talk to us as well. Well, the latter situation happened. When we were about to get into the car, she came up to my mom. She said that she came from Gilroy via Caltrain, came here to shop, and didn't have enough money to go back. She said that her husband was at home, and that she needed to get her kid back home. My mom, wary of beggars as per the Chinese status quo, refused to give her any money, stating that she should have plenty of money, since she was out shopping anyway. After that, she just walked away. The situation was just so weird. And, the weirdest part? The lady's baby was too big for the stroller, and it wasn't moving at all. See, as an older sister of a very annoying child (see my profile picture) that I have grown up with, I knew what a sleeping kid looked like. The "child" in the lady's stroller was not a sleeping kid. It was eerily motionless, and covered with a blanket. What was it? I still don't know.
I think the reason many people stay away from helping other people is really due to the fear of situations like the ones I'm so afraid of. The woman who refuses to help a man with his kid's bike in the park might be terrified of being raped and killed. The man who refuses to donate to people in the street is absolutely certain that no good will come out of it, and that the people will just use his money for drugs. And, of course, there's the popular belief that many beggars are actually part of a greater crime syndicate. There's just this state of cynicism in the world that people are in, that prevent them from going outside of their little bubble. Even in Palo Alto, some people are simply terrified of the idea of going to a place that is seeming unsafe, even to help people. Many people just don't want to take the risk just to help one person. I think they're wrong. Helping one person makes all the difference. If I could turn back time, and help that one old lady in Hong Kong, and all the other beggars I saw in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Xiamen and Ji'an and Beijing and Jiujiang, and all the homeless people fighting the torrential downpour in San Francisco, and everybody else in the world who needs a helping hand, I would. I think other people should do the same thing if they were ever in the situation that allowed them to.
Would people actually do that? I don't know, but maybe it's time to change that uncertainty.
Article by Patricia Tang