do the right thing

Snow Storm NYC Jan. 3, 2014

This morning as I was crossing the slushy street to my office building, I saw a Coke delivery man carrying cases of bottled soda step into a puddle, slip, fall, and spill dozens of bottles of Coke all over the intersection.  My light changed to walk and as the crowd started across the street, cars began to move and honk at the man trying to pick up each bottle.  It's safe to say that the intersection in front of my building is a busy one - especially at 9 in the morning as commuters rush to get to work on time.  There were about 30 people at the intersection when the delivery man fell.  Only two people stopped to help him.  I found myself quickly weighing the odds of being even later than I already was vs. helping the man.  I helped him. Me and one other guy stopped, reached our hands into the slushy water and retrieved bottle after bottle of Coke and then helped the man across the street.  It is those split second moments - the tiny debate of preserving one's self and doing the right thing - where humanity lives.  I didn't pick up the coke because people were watching me and would reward me (and that's not why I'm telling you now).  It's because I felt compelled to do the right thing.  

I've been thinking about this notion more recently after I heard this story about "always going to the funeral" on my morning NPR (transcript here). In her essay, Deidre Sullivan writes about always going to the funeral as a larger philosophy.  She says, 
"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing."
She's right isn't she?  It's not that I saw the delivery guy slip and fall and evilly thought, "I'm not going to help him; serves him right".  It's more that I could have easily thought "sucks to be him" and kept walking.  It's easier to do nothing.  But I'll tell you one thing, I feel really good this morning.  And that poor man, drenched from the puddle he fell in to, looked up at me in disbelief and thanked me a million times over.  I'm hoping just as I remembered Deidre's message to "always to go the funeral", this will help you remember to stop and do the right thing.  And for the record, no one cared that I was 5 more minutes late for work.


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