One of my core values is the idea of respecting others. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But like many deeply cherished values, it tends to get a bit complicated under intense scrutiny. In fact I have often considered myself a misanthrope, which might seem to be at odds with respecting others.
It’s easy for me to feel respectful in my typical daily routine, because I have the good fortune to be surrounded by people whom I find it easy to respect. For the most part, the people closest to me are not domineering assholes nor extremely needy nor highly dysfunctional. A lot of them are in fact beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, righteous people. I love them, and it’s easy to respect those you love.
If I deviate much from my social comfort zone, however, I’m liable to encounter people where the ideal of mutual respect is much more difficult. Sometimes, such deviations are thrust up unexpectedly, and I have a crisis of conscience.
For example, Friday morning, as I rode to work, I encountered a man who appeared to be sleeping on the bike path.
The reason I started this off by writing about respect is that I realized I do not know how to act respectfully to this man. One might say that he was not treating himself with respect, and therefore not deserving of respect from others. Perhaps there’s some validity to that perspective, but my thoughts don’t tend to run that way. I feel like I should do something, but I don’t know what the respectful course of action might be.
At first glance, it would seem he had too much too drink and was sleeping it off. I don’t know that for a fact, of course. Perhaps he fainted. Perhaps he has a medical condition. Perhaps his life is in danger. At the very least, he’s in danger of being run over by a bicycle, or getting dehydrated under the Louisiana sun. It’s August, after all.
I don’t want to interact with him directly. I don’t have any medical training. I’m on my way to work. What am I going to do, prod him in the ribs? “Hey, buddy, are you OK?” I’m afraid he might be incoherent or surly or even dangerous. Again, he appears to have been engaging in behavior that is so far outside my experience that I’m at a loss. I don’t have the first clue how to approach him.
It would be nice if I could just call on someone else. After all, I live in a society, right? It seems there should be some means of helping people who are in immediate need. But calling the cops is out of the question; he’d likely end up in jail or maybe even worse. Could I call 911 and get a medic on the scene? Are they equipped to deal with this scenario, or are they going to want cops present for their own protection? If he in fact is simply drunk, is he going to be handed off to the police anyhow? I’d assert that someone who drinks to that level of excess needs medical help. Possibly he needs a home. But what are the chances he would get that if I call 911?
I keep envisioning scenarios wherein any intervention actually makes matters worse.
I mentioned I was on my way to work twice already. Maybe that’s the primary factor here. I’m going about my business, usually running a little behind the clock. I don’t want to get into someone else’s business, especially when it looks like it might get messy.
In the end, I did nothing. Well, that’s not quite true. I realized I had my camera, so I turned around and snapped a photo. But I didn’t do anything to help him. When I passed by again he was gone.
What do you do in a situation like this?