To help or not to help, that is the problem

Trachinzol and the winged Dragon
June 5, 2018
Summer birthday
August 22, 2018

Today on television I heard it said that we are living in an individualistic society. This means that everyone thinks above all about himself or herself. One’s own interest and own success are in first place. This made me reflect: am I an individualist? Do I think only about myself, or also about the needs and well-being of other people?
Upon reflection, perhaps I really am an individualist. The problems of society are enormous: wars, poverty, violence, and so on. Obviously I can do nothing, as these are bigger than I am. If society must be changed or improved, someone else will have to think about it.
I was thinking about this while I was pedalling towards Giorgio’s house. Finally we could play with his new video game, and I could hardly wait. We had been talking about it for weeks, and now that he had received it as a birthday present, we could try it out. I was peddling as fast as I could: the earlier I arrived, the more time we would have for playing with it. Nothing could stop me.
I steered clear of a man out walking his dog, and then whizzed past a mother pushing a baby carriage. In the distance I could see a lady, evidently just back from the supermercato, who was unloading from her car bags bulging with the things that she had bought there. At a certain point, one of the bags broke and the entire contents fell to the ground: tins, fruit, and various other contents rolled here and there in the street. It seemed that nothing was broken, fortunately, but the woman raised her eyes to the sky and, with an annoyed sigh, grumbled: “I just can’t believe it!”
My brain was thinking in a hurry. And now what was I to do? I had seen what had happened. Certainly she had not noticed that I had seen it. I could look in another direction or else pretend that I had not seen her things fallen there on the ground and continue to pedal. After all, I had other things of my own to do! Giorgio was waiting for me; in addition, I had finished my homework at the speed of light in such a way as to have more time to play at his house.
And yet, even if from a distance, I could not avoid seeing the woman’s face. Her hands were occupied, seeing that she was holding the other bags and looking somewhat worried about all the things that were scattered in the street. From the way she moved, it seemed that she really did not know what to do: whether to leave downstairs the bags that she was holding, or to try and pick up the things from the one that had fallen.
I began to brake. But what was I doing? Go on, pedal! I was sure that if this had happened to me, no one would have helped me. I would have had to do it all myself. I would also have felt myself a fool…And what if it had happened to someone I knew well? The longer I looked, the more I realised that she needed help.
When I was a few metres away from her, I made up my mind: I wanted to give her a hand. I braked, almost making the tyres squeal and, getting off my bicycle, said to her: “Wait, I’ll help you”. A bit hesitant, the woman nodded and looked at me as I picked up the packages and jars and tins scattered everywhere.
I sensed that she was keeping an eye on me and was watching me warily. I would probably have done the same thing if I had been in her place. She did not know me, and I could also be a petty thief who had take advantage of the situation to rob her of her groceries. But I am not that sort of person.
After I had picked up the articles on the ground, the woman said to me, “Thank you. Could you please put them in that empty bag there in the boot of the car?”. I nodded, and managed to pack them all into it. I returned to my bike, ready to depart once again for Giorgio’s house.
The lady gave me a big smile: “Thank you so much, you have been most kind. Thank goodness there are people like you around to help others!”. I smiled timidly and pedaled off.
Wow, I was proud of myself! She had been so demoralised when I reached her, you could see it in her face, but all it took was a small gesture to make her smile. All things considered, I hadn’t even lost that much time. I had the whole afternoon to play with Giorgio. I felt really good about it, because I felt that I had made her feel better.
No doubt about it, if I hadn’t helped her, she could have managed by herself in any case. She would just have spent twice the amount of time doing it and would have returned home in a very nervous state due to what had happened. But I know that I had contributed to making her feel better.
Unexpectedly, a word that I had heard a few days ago came to mind: prosocial. I remember that it referred to behaving oneself in a positive manner towards other people, without receiving anything in exchange. I thought about being prosocial: evidently, I have at heart the well-being of other persons. I am not as individualistic as I had thought. And perhaps even in my own small way I can do something to improve the world in which we live.

Elisabetta Conte

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