I was at my favorite coffee shop sipping on a latte' and working on a presentation, when I saw this older gentleman wearing an Vietnam Vet Army baseball hat buy a couple cups of coffee to go. As he was putting the top on one of the cups, he spilled a bit of coffee on the floor. I noticed him walk painfully slowly, limping to get a napkin to clean up his spill. His struggling continued as he began to awkwardly bend down to wipe up the mess. Seeing this I put down my computer, stood up quickly and said, "Sir, I'll take care of that," reaching out toward him to grab the napkin from his hand.
In my head I believed he would be thankful for my help, but you know what they say about assuming?!
He jerked back abruptly saying "Don't touch me... I don't like to be touched."
I replied, with my hand coming up non-violently, "Ok, ok, sir, I'm just trying to give you a hand."
"I don't need your help, I can take care of myself," he said sharply.
"I know you can," I added gently, my hands still up.
He finished his business and curtly thanked me as he left.
Here I thought I was doing something helpful for someone in need, but like a puppy, I got my muddy paws on someones Sunday clothes. I realized that I was a big part of the problem.
I should have approached the man differently. I should maybe have said something like, "Sir, can I give you a hand?" or "Sir, can I help you?" Rather than being so assertive and TELLING him that I'd "take care of it." My simply asking him if I could provide help may have avoided the uncomfortable encounter.
I may have startled him or I may have inadvertently not allowed him to save face in public. I took for granted that he needed help and didn't give him the chance to decide. Sometimes people don't want others to think they can't fend for themselves or are a burden.
Whatever the reason, it made me think of my assumptions and how I approach a situation. Even with good intentions, sometimes we can be part of the problem.
Continue to be ever mindful! Some things are a bit counter intuitive at first glance.
All the best,