The Man on the Subway

Whose responsibility is it to ask for help when things go wrong in life?  

With the influx of natural disasters and everyday things… whose responsibility is it? 

Many people, when going through a challenging time expect others to treat them differently, or offer help, etc.. I don’t.

It’s not my place to.

Yes that goes against the social norm, but hear me out.

If they want my help, advice, guidance, etc. it’s their responsibility to ask for it.

It’s not mine to extend it. As I mentioned in my blog about ethics in sending healing to folks, I believe it is each persons responsibility to ask when they need help. 

I have always kept a distance to folks who are going through challenging times because it is not part of my journey it is theirs.  I give them their space to process what they are going through.

I treat them like I always treat them, no different based on what they are going through.

There is a story I wish to share with you:

The Man on the Subway – From Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.Subway

“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.” 

We all go through times in our life that is challenging, but how you and others deal with it is their own journey, and theirs alone.

When others see you going through pain or a challenging life event, you may assume they should treat you a certain way. This is an expectation that many times can turn into disappointment.

We have social norms of how to treat others or what to do in many situations.  

For example, when my Mom passed away when I was 12 years old, people from our church came over and brought food and some cleaned our house.  We had two refrigerators and two freezers full of food. 

Although the sentiment was nice, it was a huge intrusion of our space.  I didn’t like it.  I felt suffocated by the number of people that were in our home and telling what I “needed” to do or not do at that time.  But because it was the social norm everyone assumed it was the right thing to do instead of asking our family what we wanted or needed at this time in our life.

If they would have asked me “What can I do for you?” I would have said.  I need to be alone right now with my sisters.

But no one asked.

If you think stepping back and letting someone have their own experience is insensitive or selfish, I would challenge you to look at the expectations you have for others and why you feel obligated to reach out to them if they are having a challenging time.

Some folks might say it’s the right thing to do, or it shows you have compassion.

You can have compassion while still holding sacred space for them and not offer up your own agenda of what you think they may or may not need or want at a time of challenge.

Most people are so caught up in their own journey of life that when you mention something to them, they are too preoccupied with their own issues that they may give you a short or aloof answer or response.

If you become offended by how another treats you or responds to you about a challenging life event, look at what your expectations are for this other person and for yourself.

If you see disappointment, what you are disappointed about in your own life?

Often times we act as mirrors for others during this life many times.

Also, the subway story is about everyone on the train not just the man that confronted the other man. That gentleman was the only one to ask the man what was going on… Out of all those people. While reading this post did you take into account the others on the subway that chose to let the man and his children have their experience while they had theirs?

But can we really assume, as the author wrote, what these other people were truly feeling or thinking?

What if a couple that was watching the two children were struggling to have kids of their own and LOVED watching the kids run around the train.

Maybe someone else that was watching, was thinking to herself how much she missed her parents and made a note to give them a call later that day.

The assumption of the author that “everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.” was an assumption on his part and only a reflection of his upbringing and state of mind.

Getting outside of judgment, comparison and assumptions is really the key to all of this.

When things happen in life, and they will, just ASK for what you want and need.

And, if something is going on with someone you care about, ASK them what they need from you.

It’s that simple.

Just a simple decision could change your life for the better.

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Feeling like your decisions get harder and harder to make? Click HERE to check out my blog post about Decision Fatigue and the simple way to get rid of it!