• Last modified 3366 days ago (April 29, 2010)


Following the golden rule

My mother always told me to beware of strangers, especially in cities.

“Don’t be so trusting,” she would tell me, even when I was an adult, because I was trusting — even gullible at times. I have always wanted to see the best in people, sometimes sorely disappointed.

I always have been trusting because I have had to rely on the kindnesses of strangers — when my car broke down on a highway or when I lost my purse and needed a ride.

It’s not surprising that these days we tend to decline help from others because we don’t trust them.

I attended the Kansas Press Association convention this past weekend in Topeka and as I was leaving the downtown area, my car had a flat tire. Topeka’s downtown area is like most cities — mostly restaurants and bars — and on a Saturday night, that’s all that was open.

I pulled into a fast food restaurant and set out to change the flat. When I discovered that the factory jack in my car had never been out of the holder and I couldn’t detach the jack handle/lug wrench from the jack, I went inside the restaurant and asked if there was a wrecker service in the area. The manager mumbled something about there not being anything in that part of town, turned, and walked away.

I went back out to attempt the task again. This time a customer who was waiting for his food followed me out. He knew the rules, keeping his distance from me, waiting for me to give him permission to approach me.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

I told him if I could get the jack handle detached from the jack, I could probably change the tire. With much “persuasion” from a pair of pliers, the man broke some sort of plastic seal, allowing the handle to become detached.

I thanked him and went about my business.

“Is your car in “park?” he asked as he walked away?

“Yes,” I responded.

“Is your emergency brake on?”

“Yep, it is.”

He went inside the restaurant and I honestly thought that would be the last I would see of him.

After I loosened the lug nuts and was preparing to jack up the car, he walked over to my car.

“I can’t go off and leave you like this,” the 40-something-year-old man said after he put his bag of food in his truck. “I’d want someone to help my wife.”

So, he changed my tire for me. It wasn’t that big of a deal to him but it was peace of mind to me.

“The least I can do is pay for your meal the next time you eat out since your meal got cold while you helped me,” I told the stranger, as I handed him a $20 gift card I purchased from the restaurant.

“That isn’t necessary,” he said, but he took the card and gave me directions to a car repair business that could repair my tire yet that night, so I could return to Marion.

We expect it in our small communities — strangers helping strangers. It’s what we do here. But in cities, I don’t think it’s as common.

Yes, I took a risk in letting a stranger near my car and me. Yes, he took a chance that I wasn’t going to harm him in some way.

Paying it forward is a common way of describing this. I call it following the golden rule.

Regardless, thank goodness for people like him.

— susan berg

Last modified April 29, 2010