You’re driving along a quiet state highway and a car is parked on the side of the road, a lonely-looking guy standing beside it with a gas can at his feet and his thumb pointing into the air.
Do you stop?
You want to help, but how do you know the guy’s not a criminal? Or a drug addict?
At sixty miles per hour you have about three seconds to make the decision. Naturally, you play it safe. You drive on.
The same goes for the guy on the street corner with a sign. You wonder…what’s he really going to do with that money?
Life has a way of putting people in front of you who need help, or at least claim they do. You have a choice to make, and usually no time to make it in.
Perhaps if you had time to think your reaction might be different. But since you don’t you fall back on stereotypes and worst-case scenarios. If he has time to stand on a corner he has time to go find a job. The gas can at his feet might be a ruse.
It’s understandable. We live in a rough world, and there are people who might exploit your kindness to fuel their own laziness or addictions.
Which, I suppose, is why two-thousand years later we’re still talking about the Good Samaritan. In a world of suspicion and me-first, he was not your typical highway traveler.
Our kids have probably heard the story. And they’ve also watched how we’ve dealt with similar situations in the real world. Their likely conclusion? “Cool story, bro,” as the headphones go back on.
Last weekend my wife and I decided to drive out to the old WWII Japanese internment camp outside of Twin Falls. It had snowed a little the day before, but the roads in town were clear, and the freeway was fine.
Once we got off the freeway we were on a back road about three miles from the camp when we went over a low hill and got a fast surprise. The road was unexpectedly covered with snow—one of those spots where capricious winds produce a sizeable drift or two.
We were in a low-slung Toyota, and my efforts to bull through the drifts came to a halt after a hundred yards.
I was getting out of the car to see just how badly we were beached when a truck came over the ridge from the other direction. The truck slowed and the window opened.
“Looks like you might need some help.”
“Wasn’t counting on this much snow out here.”
“Listen, I don’t have my tow rope with me. I can run home and get it. Back in ten minutes tops. I’ll get you out.”
I thanked him and he pulled away. I started clearing snow. A few minutes later another truck appeared.
“Need some help?”
“A guy’s going to get his rope. Said he’d be back soon.”
“Great. Good luck.”
Two more vehicles drove by during our wait. Each one stopped and offered help. One was driven by a solitary female.
The guy who had gone to get his rope returned. We hooked it up and he pulled us out. We shook hands at the end, and I thanked him a ton. After he pulled away I realized we hadn’t introduced ourselves. He had a red beard.
People sometimes ask why I live in Idaho. There are lots of reasons, but this is one of them. In a world where simple kindness often requires cautious bravery, folks around here aren’t afraid to see a need and offer help. Even if they have to go home, get a rope, and drive back.
Sure, I could have been a bad guy. But I wasn’t. Just like the other 99.9 percent of guys stuck on the road on any given day.
And maybe the guy on the corner wants to buy wine. But he’s probably just confused and hungry. And besides, that’s between him and God.
Around here we’re okay with that whole Good Samaritan thing. It’s not just a cool story, bro, it’s a rewarding way to live.