Archive | February, 2013

What Would You Do? When Moral Conscience Conflicts with Comfort

9 Feb

This evening my neighbor and I took a stroll to the supermarket about 15 minutes away to pick up a few bottles of wine and snacks for an easy Friday night in. On our way back, we were stopped by a woman in her 30s or 40s who spoke English but clearly had an accent and was not from the area. She asked us if we know of any house with rooms for rent, or places to stay in the area. Unfortunately, I really don’t know of any places for rent around here, and most cheap hotels or hostels are in San Jose.

As we tried to brainstorm possible locations, I noticed she was carrying a large travel bag, carrying a bunch of plastic bags in plastic bags and assorted items in them. She was wearing a tattered winter jacket and hat (which is unusual as Escazu right now is about 70 degrees at night).

Homeless woman with bags and bundles of possessions on public bench in Hyde Prk, London, UK.

We exhausted all of our potential knowledge, wrote down some websites she could try out, and continued on our way home. In the middle of our cut-through, we started talking about her situation, and just stopped both thinking that this might be one of those times in our life that we needed to take a risk and help someone out. I mentioned the signs I saw that pointed toward homelessness- on the street at night, the items being carried, and what she had been asking.We didn’t know where she was coming from, what she was doing, or where she was trying to go but clearly she needed help.

For a good 3 minutes we stood in the middle of the produce of our cut-through store and went back and forth about our moral gut telling us to go back and invite her to stay, and our mental comfort of inviting a total stranger off the street to stay in our apartment. Of course, we’re in a city we don’t even know that well and we don’t know who this woman is- but she clearly needed help and had nowhere to go. After the debate of morals vs. mindsets we turned back, found her at a bus bench, and invited her to stay.

I asked her if she wanted to stay for us for the night. I told her we were leaving for the weekend tomorrow (a lie- which I feel badly about- but I thought if she stayed one night we could at least be more successful in helping her find and get somewhere, or at least get to know her story and find out if we can trust her more) but she could stay tonight. She said thank you, but she needed somewhere for tonight, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We told her that we could only do tonight, and she declined. Although in reality we could have offered this- we have the space and the ability- we weren’t comfortable committing to that long of a stay off the bat, and so we wished her luck and went on her way.

Although some of my moral conscience guilt felt alleviated, I still feel badly about lying her. Our reasons we developed for not feeling¬†as¬†badly about lying and only offering one night was that she could have taken 1 night if she really truly needed it- so perhaps she was homeless tonight but not helpless- or perhaps she was just traveling and in a fix for the next few days. For all we know she was running from a bad situation, or was kicked out of somewhere. We didn’t ask, and I can’t help wondering if we should have tried to dig a little more to know more about what we could have done to help.

The life skill we are teaching our students in school right now is kindness/caring. Last year I worked in a program helping to identify and assist families in a homeless situation. We talk the talk in schools, serve the community once or twice a month, and donate or spread awareness about those less fortunate than ourselves…but when it really comes down to taking action, why is it that we still fail to trust and offer all? When we are really tested how is it that we actually have a dilemma about right and wrong? How is it possible that I am in such a fortunate situation, and don’t act when it really comes down to it?

I’m happy I went and offered, but upset with myself for not being willing to just give more right away.

If this happened to you, what would you do?