Do you ever get the urge to pay for another shopper's groceries? Or to offer to carry somebody's parcels? To stop on a rainy day and give a homeless person your jacket?
Standing in the queue at Pick n Pay, sometimes I'll spot someone just ahead or just behind me with a few items, obviously very carefully chosen and probably to be paid for with their last R50.
Sometimes I won't think much of it, but every so often I'm just gripped by this urge to do something for them. Obviously you have to find a way to do it without making a big scene or embarrassing the person, and there's always the chance they'll think you're a crazed stalker or any other garden-variety-creepy person. Or they might be offended.
Usually, I try the little tap on the shoulder and a whispered "Excuse me, would it be okay if I get that for you?".
Nobody's ever said no - people have been surprised, touched, shocked and sometimes even speechless.
I've had my fair share of snarky comments from bystanders - but screw them, right?
The chance to make a tiny difference to someone's day (which might end up making a big difference in their life) - is worth a few skew looks and ugly comments from people whose life's motto is "Why should I?"
I'll tell you why you should. Because it could be you. You could be in that position one day, and imagine if somebody did it for you.
You should do it because it's fun. Maybe that sounds shallow and selfish, but it's true. It's a privilege to bring a smile to someone's face.
It's not about guilt - there's no reason to feel bad about what you have - it's just about being aware that it's not the same for everyone.
It's not about feeling superior or important. You're not their saviour or knight in shining armour. You're just a dude who happened to be in a position at that moment to do something small.
The argument that you're not making any lasting change in that person's life is pointless. Of course you're not. Paying for somebody's bread and veg is not going to solve the big problems of the world, or even help with the underlying challenges in that person's life. What it COULD do is make them happy, even for a day. They could go home and say "guess what happened to me today". Just for today, they might not have to choose between medicine or supper.
When they're in a position to help someone else, they might remember you and what you did for them.
Sure, they might take the money saved and spend it on booze or tik. You'll never know. The responsibility for how they receive the help is on them, not on you. If they choose not to receive it in the spirit in which it was given, there's not much you can do about it except chalk it up to experience and try again next time.
A bad experience one time should not stop you from doing it again for someone else.
This isn't something I've talked about to many people - but after a recent Twitter conversation I realised there are more of us secret shopping ninjas out there than I thought.
So I'm just putting the idea out there.Next time you're in the queue - look around. When the urge strikes - don't ask "Why should I?"
Ask "How am I going to?"
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