A seemingly kind but shabby looking man offers you Seattle’s Best Coffee at Borders. The old man has been sitting across from you on a stool for at least an hour. He disappears for a few minutes and comes back to offer you a cup of coffee. What do you do?
Do you take the coffee and chat with him for hours on end? Do you pretend to take a sip? Do you simply deny the offer? Should you be impressed, suspicious or disgusted?
We get taught early on not to associate with strangers. Don’t take candy from a stranger. Don’t go looking for a lost, white kitten with a stranger. Don’t accept random rides from a stranger. Don’t do ANYTHING with a stranger.
These thoughts are indoctrinated in us, and they stick with many of us. We think, “See! I’ve survived 20 years without getting kidnapped so the ‘no stranger policy’ must work.”
This policy then gets applied to anyone who just isn’t the same as us. Anyone who looks “different” – doesn’t dress a certain way or is much older – is off-limits. It becomes difficult to tell when a person has good intentions without basing our perceptions upon their reputation.
It’s the feeling that if a younger, well-dressed guy offers you coffee, then he probably isn’t a creeper – he’s just being a gentleman. But really, even compared to a shabby old man, there’s the same amount of possibility that he can’t be trusted.
It might seem naïve for someone to trust a disheveled guy and accept coffee from him, but this is based on the assumption that he has some ulterior motive. Is this really fair or just? He should have just as much opportunity to commit to a random act of kindness without having someone react in disgust or suspicion.
We’re not used to these random acts of kindness, which is why we need national holidays and special school functions to remind us, “It’s okay to be nice. No one is going to frown upon you.” We assume that everyone hates each other and has some motive behind their actions – just look at all the “Hate Free Zone” posters plastered around campus. It becomes difficult to simply be nice to others.
Being thoughtful or kind to others has become out of the ordinary. We’re used to every man thinking only about himself instead of what others might want. Consideration toward others is clouded under suspicion.
My first reaction to being offered coffee was amazement and surprise. People don’t usually just buy coffee for strangers. When there are these rare, polite gestures, we can’t possibly accept them. Inevitably, a voice in the back of your head tells you that you can’t accept something from someone you don’t know. There has to be a reason this questionable guy is offering you coffee.
But does there really have to be a reason? Although out of haste and surprise, I didn’t accept the coffee. Maybe underlying all this is again that ingrained fear responding.
Surely the incident was atypical, but I didn’t think too much of it. It actually wasn’t until I talked to a few friends that I got a sense that many would find the guy to be a creeper. Their reactions said it all – distorted faces and the mouthing of “creeper.”
Ultimately, reputations don’t matter much. But they do matter when people react to you in a certain manner based on a misunderstood or misguided perception. It’s not fair to a well-intentioned person when you react with loath just because they look shady based on your image.
Despite the fear we’re ingrained with, not everyone is a hater.
TIFFANY LEW loves Matt Bellamy’s quote on Muse being ashamed to be a part of Twilight. Google it or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org for the full quote.