There are many things to fear in our world today, the most recent being the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus around the world.
But, recent events in my neighborhood completely unrelated to coronavirus reminded me how just easily our fears and biases can lead us to overlook concern for the welfare of others.
I live in a community that is known for kindness and a history of taking care on one another. Unfortunately, a few criminal events rooted in domestic violence over the span of several months had our very close-knit neighborhood on edge (and the neighborhood Facebook page on fire). Every “stranger” in the environment became a suspect with unusual sightings reported (and commented on) in great detail.
With this as background, it is no surprise that when doorbells rang unexpectedly at 1:30 in the morning, people responded with fear. Most people admitted to not opening the door to a stranger in the middle of the night. The few people who did open the door reported that a menacing-looking middle-aged man dressed all in black said he had lost his phone and asked to come in to use a phone. He was turned away from multiple houses who reported a fear for the safety of their family.
As it turns out, the man ringing the doorbell was the mentally challenged father of a family who had just moved into the neighborhood. He had left the house without his cell phone, had gotten lost, and he was himself panicked and afraid. Gratefully, his daughter found him and was able to return him safely home – but not with the help of our usually kind and generous neighborhood. Part of the reason people responded as they did was because this man did not “look like” the typical person in need.
I like to believe that had he been a young child or an obviously senile older adult that we would have been more responsive as a community. But, it WAS the middle of the night, and I have still instructed my teenage daughter to NEVER open the door in the middle of the night to a stranger no matter what the circumstance. So, as a family, we have also discussed that we should have called the non-emergency number for our local sheriff’s department to request a welfare check on the stranger.
We immediately jumped to the fear-based conclusion that the stranger was up to no good when, actually, he was a fellow human in need. We overlooked the fact that there are options available to safely balance the concern for our own welfare with the responsibility to extend kindness to a stranger. It never occurred to us to request a welfare check in this kind of a situation, but I have been assured by several local law enforcement agencies that they would have viewed this as an appropriate use of services and would have been happy to come out to ensure the well-being of everyone in our neighborhood as well as the stranger in our midst.
So, whatever your position on the necessity to stock up on toilet paper and bottled water in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic, I hope we all remember to stock up on an extra supply of human kindness. I have no idea what unexpected needs might present themselves in the coming days, but I plan to do what I can to help my friends, my neighbors and strangers as we navigate this uncharted territory together. After all, I didn’t stock up on extra toilet paper, and now the store shelves are empty. So, I hope that one of my neighbors will come to my rescue if we have a toilet paper emergency at my house. Be safe and be kind!
Darra Wray is a Care Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor with My Care Companions in Boise, Idaho, a company she founded to streamline and simplify the administrative side of care. You can learn more about My Care Companions and the My Data Diary+ family information management software tool at www.mycarecompanions.com.