I ignored a little kid today who obviously needed help

Because I didn’t want to risk getting in trouble with the cops or his parents.

10 year old kid gets off the city bus about 3pm this afternoon, obviously on his way home Friday afternoon from school. He takes about 5 steps, turns and starts chasing the bus — “Wait! Wait!” The bus driver either didn’t see him, or, more likely, did see him but wasn’t going to stop because that’s against the rules. I’ve seen this a lot the last few years — guy running for the bus is 2 seconds late, the bus driver has barely started accelerating out of the stop, he never stops and lets the guy on.

This kid obviously forgot something important on the bus. He chased it for a hundred yards before giving up, crestfallen.

I was already pulling over to the side of the road to ask the kid to get in and I’d help him chase the bus, Seriously, I’d turned the wheel and hit the brakes, and then my voice of reason asked, Are you on crack?

Middle-aged adult male driving alone, pulling over to the side of the road, rolling down the window and persuading a kid to get in the car. If the kid was properly trained and mature enough, he’d say no. If not, he’d get in and I bet three people behind me would have been on their cell phones by the time we caught the bus.

Had my wife been in the car with me, it would have been different. Which is a subject for another post.

I passed him by, watching him trudge back in the direction of the bus stop in my rear view mirror, and thought about it the rest of the way home.

Anyhow, no big deal. Maybe he’s going to have to make an excuse to an unsympathetic teacher about not getting his homework done, come Monday. Probably, he left his backpack, and he’s going to get yelled at by his mom when he gets home and then she’ll give him a note for the teacher. Maybe he left a cage full of gerbils who will be left to run on their wheels over the weekend until they die of dehydration.

But it is a big deal. The Free Range Mom (go look up her stuff, she’s the awesome in Awesome Sauce!) has made this point better than I ever could: It used to be that all adults felt some kind of responsibility to parent all kids out in public. This is a reason that 30 to 50 years ago, it used to be a lot safer to let your kids roam. Adults who saw something would say something.

More than once as a pre-adolescent, I got “Who is your mother? What’s your phone number?” and marched back to my house (even put into his car!) by a stranger for public misdeeds always committed when I’d put significant distance, often miles, between me and my parents. (I was kind of a little shit, betcha can’t tell from this blog.) Throwing rocks, crossing streets unsafely, swearing loudly on the sidewalk or just looking like a little gang of hooligans (which we were) could invite immediate adult intervention. These days, not so much.

I could be wrong, but now, I think it’s worse than a coin toss that if you drag somebody’s little brat home to their parental eunuchs, the adult/s are going to go off on you, not thank you politely with murder in their eyes looking at little Johnny.

This is a significant devolution of “high trust” in our society that has gone nearly unnoticed.

As I write this, I still haven’t decided whether I should have stopped and tried to help that kid chase the bus. Would I have freaked him out, perhaps even traumatized him, because he’s been so freaked out by lectures on stranger-danger? Other than that, right now, I can’t think of a downside worth me paying attention to that really justifies me not stopping. I had a chance to, in a very small way, strike a blow, or at least land a gentle slap on the butt, for “high trust” and I didn’t do it because I didn’t have time to think it through. So I defaulted to avoidance and passivity.

You make your best moral decisions when you have time to think it through in advance. That’s why it’s a bad idea not to think about moral dilemmas and develop moral principles you can fall back on when surprises and emergencies confront you.

Right now, I wish I’d stopped for the kid and asked, What did you forget and where were you sitting? I’ll chase the bus. Go home and get your mom and come right back here and I’ll bring it to you. But I didn’t think about that till just right now. All I could think when it happened was, “Jump in, we’ll chase the bus!”

It’s not very likely I’ll encounter a similar moral dilemma, but I might. It remains instructive: if you haven’t thought through a particular moral issue before it hits you, your response is likely to be less than you wish it had been.

Which brings me to another post I should do soon–How do people become corrupted morally? I have a theory, based on my own experience, that is at least useful if not universal.


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