When A Stranger Calls

A recent subject I introduced spoke to a matter of connecting with strangers. A prime example proposed was merely smiling or saying, “Hello, how are you?” to a stranger. This might occur at a store on the street for example. Now, I want to add a new angle to this concept on a personal note.

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a man while I sat in my car moments after shopping. He stated that he was from Buffalo and he ran out of gas. He pointed to his vehicle parked in the shopping lot. Also, his elderly mother was waiting in the vehicle. I hesitated and was reluctant to give him the $20 he requested for gasoline. The voice within, so to speak, led me to offer the $20 on a promise to return the money. He promised to reimburse me. I gave him my professional business card. I never heard from him. Months later, I was completing the task of gassing up my vehicle when lo and behold, I saw the same man nearby. He was clearly working on someone for, you guessed it, gas money. His mom was, again, awaiting him in their vehicle. I walked over to him and asked where my money was. He got edgy and moved away from the other gentleman. He said nothing, and I let it go and left for home.

Was this a mere coincidence? Was it a scam? My family later suggested that I was, initially, too trusting. Whether out of necessity, desperation or just plainly a professional gig, a matter of trust jumped out for me to ponder. We hear today of warnings about telephone, mailing and computer scam artists at work. Folks have given enormous sums of money to scam artists only to suffer the consequences. Police and court systems probably can’t keep up with the enormous complaints.

Recently, I left my office and was approached by a man who requested money for gasoline. His vehicle ran out on a reported trip home from a medical appointment. He had a family member coming from a distance with a gas can, however, without cash. I politely refused his request and spent the evening in moral conflict. What was the big deal to give someone who possibly spoke the truth and was temporarily down and out, enough gas money to get home in the darkness of night?

Have I contradicted my own beliefs about trusting my fellow man? So what if he may have been scamming and dishonest – who really suffers? I am basically one who trusts easily. Yes, I’ve suffered the consequences and yet have reaped the rewards of fulfillment that I gave no questions asked, no proverbial strings attached.

Has our world become a place where those in need are viewed as characters of ill repute? I asked several people about their position. Most stated that giving to those in need who are familiar comes much easier than trusting strangers. And yet, we have become more guarded, less trusting. I hope that isn’t true. And I hope that gentleman made it home. For if he was truly honest, I ask him and God for forgiveness. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Thank you.

Marshall Greenstein holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@post-journal.com.