Have you ever been in a situation where doing the right thing wasn’t always obvious? Maybe you’ve encountered a panhandling situation where you wanted to respond in kindness, but the circumstance wasn’t the safest of situations. If you’ve been there before, then you know the guilt that plagues you for not following through.
I think for the most part that we live in a very caring and giving community. We come together as a supportive community with genuine benevolence in times of crisis. There is no second guessing what to do in times of crisis. As warm-blooded Americans, it’s what we do, doing the neighborly thing is an automatic gesture of empathy. But, when the crisis is not so obvious, we tend not to know what to do in these type situations.
Some years ago I worked in the downtown area of Columbus. Panhandling was a part of the landscape of working in a metropolis environment.
On a daily basis, it was not uncommon to have individuals walk up to you on the streets asking for a quarter. The lunch hour was prime time for panhandlers. In the day-to-day routine of things, everyone coexisted and giving was anticipated and expected. With so many people moving around all at once, it felt less threatening to give when asked. There was no ethical dilemma or over-thinking; if you had it to give, you gave it — no guilt there.
This was the norm of city life and working in downtown Columbus. But moving closer to home, Delaware also has been touched by homelessness and individuals transitioning through hard times. There has been a major shift in the community of Delaware in addressing situational challenges that were — once upon a time — seen as a big city problem. From a social service perspective, Delaware is addressing hunger and homelessness. We have numerous agencies and churches that are making major contributions in supporting families in transition.
But, as a community, where does personal responsibility lie in being a good neighbor? What is the neighborly thing to do when we see individuals standing along the highway with signs soliciting assistance? What is the neighborly thing to do when you see a mom with her kids walking through a shopping mall parking lot, soliciting help to feed her kids? Without question, empathetic compassion should be the standard for giving for the good Samaritan in all of us. But, for some, there are real ethical concerns here. Is the highway the safest place to be neighborly? Are these people legitimately in need? And are the children’s safety being compromised?
What is the neighborly thing to do if you are traveling alone, and you see someone stranded on the highway? The good Samaritan in us says “give them a ride,” but gut intuitions says it’s not a safe thing to do. Here again, even when we desire to do the neighborly thing, the choice is not always obvious. For some, if children are involved, the response is immediate. For others, safety is first and alerting the State Highway Patrol to assist might be a more logical response.
As a faith community, we would like to think that we would do the right thing in each of these situations. But, the right thing is not always obvious. So the right thing becomes relative to the situation. Don’t guilt-trip yourself if you don’t have a biblical textbook response every time. The most important thing that we can do is to keep our hearts open to being neighborly.
Kimberly Strain is pastor of Outreach Christian Center, 77 London Road, Delaware.