I was on a packed train out of London Paddington this week. I had been fortunate enough to get on board early and had a seat, which was ideal as I had a 3 hour journey ahead of me. Most of the other passengers were relatively local commuters from/to Reading and Oxford.

The train got busier and busier before departure to the point that the aisles were completely full of standing passengers right along the carriage. I became aware of an elderly man with a white cane and dark glasses among the standing throng. As I considered he had more need of the seat I occupied than me, I asked him “Would you like my seat?” To which he replied in a very sarcastic and grumbly voice “It’s my eyes that are broken, not my legs!” He then turned his back on me at that point adding insult to my utter sense of injustice and injury.

I thought to myself that’s it, I’m never going to offer to help anyone, ever again! I shut my eyes and went to sleep!

After about 45 minutes I opened my eyes and the crowd around me had shifted slightly as people do when stood for a long time. To my horror I now noticed that behind the blind man had been stood a heavily pregnant lady. She was looking somewhat flushed and uncomfortable and had a toddler sat on the floor at her feet. I rubbed my eyes for some reason, perhaps I thought I was still asleep and was dreaming. Could I face another sarcastic rebuff? After all I’d just allowed a pregnant woman stand up for 45 minutes, I’d deserve it this time, surely?

I summoned up the courage and said “I am so sorry, I didn’t see you there before would you like my seat?” Thankfully and with great relief to both of us she gladly accepted, thus restoring my faith in helping those in apparent greater need than myself.

So what did that experience teach me?

  • Just because someone is disabled in one way don’t assume they also need extra assistance to do the things that they CAN do!
  • When we get help thrown back in our face by one person it is easy to then think, we won’t offer help to anyone and therefore we stop looking. When we do this we will fail to notice people that really DO need our help.
  • The pregnant lady was desperately in need of help and wanted help but didn’t ask for it. Had she been ‘put off’ asking by the actions of the blind man?
  • If you publicly throw back the offer of help because YOU don’t need or want it, then you stop and discourage other people, from helping other people. This applies in the workplace and in life, not just on trains.
  • There is also the issue of stereotypes. It is very easy to pigeonhole people into ‘our own’ preconceived ideas on who they are and therefore what they will need from us.

Despite my experience on that packed train I still firmly believe in my own motto:

“It is better to do something with integrity and get it wrong, rather than not to do it at all!”

Anyone need a hand?

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Allen ~ MD of The Sales Performance Company Ltd

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