Letters to the Editor
Readers write about the difficulties of offering help to strangers.
In a nation of strangers, it's hard to offer help
In response to Brooke Williams's July 11 Opinion piece, "Why not help this mom at the airport?": First, Ms. Williams has my deep sympathies over the difficulties of air travel in the United States with two small children. I have shamefully inflicted the same experience on my own spouse and have heard how difficult it is in minute detail. Very minute detail.
Williams's larger point is, I think, that we have lost our sense of empathy and friendliness toward others when traveling. Of course more than half her fellow passengers are parents, too, and should know exactly what a difficult time she is facing. Of course, we should be patient, helpful to others, considerate, and generous.
Unfortunately, as a father of two who finds small children delightful, I am not allowed to take an interest in strangers' children beyond perhaps a smile. Our tabloid media has found that stories of child abduction sell advertising very well and so we don't trust strangers. I'd love to help, but I know better than to ask, lest I get the same "stink eye" back, silently accusing me of being a potential deviant.
In response to the recent Opinion piece on traveling with children: It is extremely sad to read how inconsiderate the flying public is in general. This is clearly a sign of a society falling apart when even the smallest gesture towards someone in need cannot be extended. However, the US government has created such a scare-tactic atmosphere around flying that everybody is fearful that their actions will be misinterpreted and they will end up with more trouble than anyone likes to experience.
In response to the recent Opinion piece on help from strangers: For five years, I worked as a delivery driver in a busy medical clinic. It was just an instinctive response for me to open doors there for the moms with strollers, folks in wheelchairs, seniors with canes and walkers.
Seniors and older people generally said "thank you," some to the point of effusiveness. What appalled me, however, was the number of younger mothers with prams who, when I opened the clinic door for them and stood aside so they could proceed, walked straight through without indicating the slightest gesture of acknowledgment.
I'm glad Ms. Williams acknowledged the baggage handler's gesture of help. It'll encourage him to do it again.
In response to the Opinion piece on flying with children: I think there is a reason that men won't approach women in public places to be helpful – the expectation that women will react with hostility.
I recall being out skiing and coming across a small boy skiing by himself, crying. He didn't know where his mom was. I didn't see her either. I talked to him to try to calm him down and get some sense of where his parent might be. Then his mom showed up and brushed past me like I wasn't there. The message was unmistakable: Get lost, buddy. It's the sort of experience you don't forget.
While I still don't think I would ignore a lost child, I'm inclined to give mothers with children a wide berth, just as I would avoid coming between a mother bear and her cub.
Regarding the recent Opinion piece on traveling with children: When I read the article about the mother struggling with a stroller and two kids in an airport, I could really empathize.
I remember being bumped up to first class when a plane was full and I had to hold a fidgety toddler on my lap. The guy sitting next to me asked to be moved and the flight attendant had to find someone willing to switch seats with him. Since then, I have always tried to help keep other people's children entertained when I've traveled on my own.
Helping a frazzled mom by chatting with her 3-year-old for an hour is one of my favorite activities. The challenge is getting a mom to trust you. Many people don't offer help because so often mothers are afraid to accept help. In the US, the stories of children kidnapped by strangers get blown out of proportion compared to the stories of people who honestly go out of their way to be helpful. How can we change this?
Regarding the recent Opinion piece on helping parents: I have found that the best way to get help is simply to ask for it.
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