A couple of weeks ago my kids and I were looking for something to do that was outside of our normal routine. We decided to drive into Seattle and maybe just hang out at the Space Needle, check out a game at Key Arena, grab some food. It ended up being a lot of fun and was a great night with the kids, but it didn’t start out that way.
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EXCUSES TO NOT GIVE
Before hitting the freeway I needed to stop and fill up my car, so I pulled into my neighborhood gas station. Because the gas station is in the middle of the burbs their prices are always more expensive than convenience stores in the city, so I was mildly agitated that I was going to overpay for fuel, but I was on empty and had no choice so I stopped.
As my car was filling up with overpriced gasoline, a scruffy looking guy got out of the well-used truck parked at the pump next to me and approached me. He started talking and I could tell that he was well-spoken, but he was also very quiet. I had to strain to hear him over the rain that was falling, but I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying. “Sorry” I said, “what was that?” He spoke up and expressed his embarrassment as he told me that he had lost his wallet and needed gas to get home; could I please help him out?
DO I LOOK LIKE A SUCKER?!
Even before he’d finished speaking I was looking for excuses to tell him no, but “I don’t have any money” was the best I could come up with. He’d just watched me put my credit card back into my wallet so he knew that wouldn’t be true. I needed more time to think of a good excuse so instead of telling him yes or no, I stalled by asking him how he’d lost his wallet? Was it just under the seat of his truck? Maybe I could help him look for it?
He told me that he was on his way home from a job (construction related) and that he must have lost his wallet while at work, because he had it earlier in the day when he bought lunch.
I still didn’t have a good excuse so I kept stalling. I asked where he was driving to? How far could he get on what he had left in his tank?
He was about 80 miles from home and was on empty.
Damn my foggy brain! I couldn’t come up with a good excuse and I didn’t want to just flat out tell him ‘no‘ or to ‘buzz off‘ so I cheerfully told him ‘sure, I’d be happy to help‘ instead. But I wasn’t happy – I was giving begrudgingly.
As I walked into the gas station to prepay for his fuel I did some quick math in my head regarding the price of gas, assumed he’d get about 20 miles per gallon out of his small truck, and I prepaid for $15.00 on his pump. I figured that was the least I could give so that he’d make it home.
I walked back out of the convenience store after putting $15 on his pump, wished him luck and then drove away. He couldn’t have been more appreciative.
MR. GOOD GUY!
My kids had been watching all of this go down from the inside the car and immediately wanted to know who that guy was when I got back in. I told them the truth: that he was stranded and needed some gas to get back home, so I helped him out. I left out the part about me struggling to find an excuse to tell him no.
So my kids all thought that their pops was Mr. Nice Guy. My youngest, in his squeaky, cute voice even said “that was soooo nice of you, Dad!”
DOES IT COUNT?
Everyone involved thought I was one good guy for helping out. Except me. After pulling away I immediately started to feel guilty. I could have filled up the guy’s truck and not even noticed the difference in my checking account, but I didn’t. Instead, I had some 3 minute internal struggle as I looked for an excuse to tell a man in need ‘no‘ and in the end I gave only what I thought was the bare minimum.
And I feel like an ass today because of it.
My question to you is this: does attitude matter when you’re giving? I mean, I did help out a stranger in need. I was nothing but nice and not at all outwardly judgmental towards the man. I provided a good example to my kids. I did the good deed, so do I get the Karma points? Or does none of that matter because of the truth that’s just under the surface: that I helped out only because I couldn’t think of an excuse fast enough?
I hope the guy made it home safely. I hope he found his wallet on the job site the next day. I hope he wasn’t scamming me, but even if he was, does that matter? What do you think?