Are You Quick to be a Skeptic?

Old Gas PumpI’ll set the scene: You’re at a gas station, standing at the pump filling up when a complete stranger comes up to you. The first thing he says is, “I’m not a bum” – typically a tell-tale sign that the person is, in fact, trying to screw you. He starts telling the story of how he lost his wallet and has run out of gas – not only that, but he has to travel across the city for a family emergency

I’m thinking, “How convenient”.

“I feel so embarrassed to be asking this, but can you please spare some money to buy me a little gas”, he asks.

My gut reaction is to lie, tell him I have no money (when obviously I do because my tank is filling up as we speak), shrug him off, get in my car, drive off, and never think about it again. I think it’s safe to say that most, if not all of us would have this initial reflex when faced with a similar situation – assuming the worst, keeping our guard up, not allowing ourselves to show vulnerability. Before thinking “This guy really needs my help”, we think “This asshole is trying to screw me out of $20 bucks.”

I think back to a situation I was in a few years ago. Driving home from visiting a friend in Springfield, IL – I was on a back road in the middle of Southern Illinois, and I pushed my car just a little too far, ran out of gas, and there I was, literally in the middle of nowhere not knowing what to do. Long story short, I got out, put my thumb up, and spent a good hour waiting for someone to stop and ask me what was wrong.

It was an older woman, alone, driving a convertible. I explained my situation, and more or less pleaded for her to drive me to the nearest gas station (which was MILES away mind you). Almost as if she needed no explanation she immediately told me to get in. I vividly remember the conversation we had on the way and there was one thing she said that has stuck with me to this day:

“We’ve all been there”

It may not seem like much, but it speaks volumes. Think about it: We have all been there; down on your luck, feeling helpless, scared, frustrated, nervous, and embarrassed. Think about a time in your life where you HAD to rely on someone else – a time when you were truly helpless. What was the outcome? How did you overcome? Who did you have to rely on?

This woman had no reason to help me other than she could. I had no reason to help this guy other than I could. I don’t know his name, I didn’t ask him to mail me a check, I’ll almost definitely never see him again. I may have been out twenty bucks but the feeling of being able to do something for someone else for no other reason but to help another human being is extremely fulfilling, rewarding, and empowering. Sometimes, like it or not, we need one another.

It’s these little “meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things” moments that really challenge us. These ‘crossroads’ where we could do something, maybe even should do something, but for whatever reason we don’t. My brief moment of generosity needs no validation or verification, I did what I did because I wanted to. Because I understood,  I had been in his situation before, when all I wanted was someone to give me a chance.

Before parting ways he thanked me, shook my hand, and before I walked off I turned to him and said those wise words that had once been said to me.

“We’ve all been there”

What’s the point of this little story? It’s safe to say that most of you will be faced with a choice in the next week or two. Someone will come to you – at work, at home, at your local gas station – you’ll be asked to give someone a chance. This time, before you write that person off, give them the benefit of the doubt, don’t get frustrated or discouraged, don’t automatically label them as a bum, hear them out and give them a chance because one day, that person could be you.


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66 Responses
  • Anita Lobo Reply

    Hi Matt,
    I really like what I see and read here today!
    All of us wait for the ‘grand’ moment to be generous/ giving/ helpful etc; while the little everyday experiences where we could shine, sometimes just slip by.
    Lovely reminder that it takes very little to be a star, everyday!
    Cheers
    Anita Lobo
    PS: This design is ‘just right’! Well done.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      These small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness really add up over time. It doesn’t take much at all to make a big difference in another person’s life.

      Thanks for the compliment on the design – I’m slowly starting to come into my own when it comes to web development – It’s a gradual work in progress but I love learning and teaching myself new ideas every day. Feeback – positive or negative, is always welcomed and appreciated!

  • Anita Lobo Reply

    Hi Matt,
    I really like what I see and read here today!
    All of us wait for the ‘grand’ moment to be generous/ giving/ helpful etc; while the little everyday experiences where we could shine, sometimes just slip by.
    Lovely reminder that it takes very little to be a star, everyday!
    Cheers
    Anita Lobo
    PS: This design is ‘just right’! Well done.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      These small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness really add up over time. It doesn’t take much at all to make a big difference in another person’s life.

      Thanks for the compliment on the design – I’m slowly starting to come into my own when it comes to web development – It’s a gradual work in progress but I love learning and teaching myself new ideas every day. Feeback – positive or negative, is always welcomed and appreciated!

  • Ryan Stephens Reply

    I usually only help women in mid-drifts, cutoff shorts and cowboy boots, but I know people that have helped others, and the helpful woman in your story is right, we’ve all been there.

    I had a professor once that got scammed by a couple going door to door asking for money to get back home to their family for Christmas. He later found out (because they’d asked other people in the community), and he’d given them more than enough to get back.

    But here’s what he said. “Sure I was a little disappointed, but the way I felt when I thought I was helping them was worth it in the end.” I thought that was pretty spectacular, so much so that for a few seconds I thought about helping someone besides hot women. :)

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Nice Ryan :) – I would expect nothing less from you. In all seriousness – your professor is right – that feeling of generosity and kindness – regardless of the outcome – is at times, worth it in the end.

  • Ryan Stephens Reply

    I usually only help women in mid-drifts, cutoff shorts and cowboy boots, but I know people that have helped others, and the helpful woman in your story is right, we’ve all been there.

    I had a professor once that got scammed by a couple going door to door asking for money to get back home to their family for Christmas. He later found out (because they’d asked other people in the community), and he’d given them more than enough to get back.

    But here’s what he said. “Sure I was a little disappointed, but the way I felt when I thought I was helping them was worth it in the end.” I thought that was pretty spectacular, so much so that for a few seconds I thought about helping someone besides hot women. :)

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Nice Ryan :) – I would expect nothing less from you. In all seriousness – your professor is right – that feeling of generosity and kindness – regardless of the outcome – is at times, worth it in the end.

  • Sam Davidson Reply

    I drove a guy who needed food to a restaurant once. My take? Whether you ignore or help them, just don’t regret what you do.

    I’ve always found that I never miss the money I hand out. And, I think the universe’s karmic qualities will come back to you. For me, I’ll never regret helping someone. But I might regret not helping someone.

  • Sam Davidson Reply

    I drove a guy who needed food to a restaurant once. My take? Whether you ignore or help them, just don’t regret what you do.

    I’ve always found that I never miss the money I hand out. And, I think the universe’s karmic qualities will come back to you. For me, I’ll never regret helping someone. But I might regret not helping someone.

  • Tim Jahn Reply

    I think I’ve actually heard that same story from a guy at the gas station near my house a few months ago…probably a total coincidence.

    But I know exactly what you mean.

    In high school, we hung out at Steak N Shake a lot. One night, I was driving alone on my way there. Not feeling well. Wasn’t as alert as usual.

    I was taking a right at the light. To my left, there were bushes along the street, making it a little harder to see cars coming through the light. I inched up a bit to get a better look before I made my right turn, and BUMP!

    A biker was gradually making his way across the street from my right and I had bumped him. I use the word bump because I truly didn’t hit him hard that he flew off his bike or anything. But he definitely got bumped.

    So I pulled into the lot immediately on my right, got out, and helped him make sure his bike was ok. He didn’t speak the best English but I gathered things were ok. So I asked him if he needed a ride home. Turns out he lived a mile or so down the road and he accepted my ride.

    So I bumped a guy on a bike by accident and drove him home. To be honest, I didn’t think twice about anything bad happening. I just figured this guy could use a ride.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Well Tim, you bumped a guy on a bike, the least you could do for nearly killing him is to give him a ride home! :)

  • Tim Jahn Reply

    I think I’ve actually heard that same story from a guy at the gas station near my house a few months ago…probably a total coincidence.

    But I know exactly what you mean.

    In high school, we hung out at Steak N Shake a lot. One night, I was driving alone on my way there. Not feeling well. Wasn’t as alert as usual.

    I was taking a right at the light. To my left, there were bushes along the street, making it a little harder to see cars coming through the light. I inched up a bit to get a better look before I made my right turn, and BUMP!

    A biker was gradually making his way across the street from my right and I had bumped him. I use the word bump because I truly didn’t hit him hard that he flew off his bike or anything. But he definitely got bumped.

    So I pulled into the lot immediately on my right, got out, and helped him make sure his bike was ok. He didn’t speak the best English but I gathered things were ok. So I asked him if he needed a ride home. Turns out he lived a mile or so down the road and he accepted my ride.

    So I bumped a guy on a bike by accident and drove him home. To be honest, I didn’t think twice about anything bad happening. I just figured this guy could use a ride.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Well Tim, you bumped a guy on a bike, the least you could do for nearly killing him is to give him a ride home! :)

  • Miguel de Luis Reply

    Great post, Matt. Sometimes we forget that generosity is of the brave, that being a good person demands courage, that fear can be a convenient disguise

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Thanks Miguel – good to see you back around these parts. We all inherintley hide behind our own fears, we’re constricted and restrained by them – it takes a lot of courage to become vulnerable and to allow others, especially strangers, into our personal lives but it’s ultimately the only way we will learn and grow collectively as a society – if we let go of our fears, break free from doubt, and show the courage to let other people in.

  • Miguel de Luis Reply

    Great post, Matt. Sometimes we forget that generosity is of the brave, that being a good person demands courage, that fear can be a convenient disguise

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Thanks Miguel – good to see you back around these parts. We all inherintley hide behind our own fears, we’re constricted and restrained by them – it takes a lot of courage to become vulnerable and to allow others, especially strangers, into our personal lives but it’s ultimately the only way we will learn and grow collectively as a society – if we let go of our fears, break free from doubt, and show the courage to let other people in.

  • Carlos Miceli Reply

    People respect me on the street every week day. I dress very elegant for work, makes sense that I make a better impression on them. But on the weekends I dress so casually that people almost fear me. I love sweatpants, crappy t-shirts and hats. It’s fun to put yourself on the other side, makes you understand what people consider important.

    Also, in case you’re wondering, I’ve truly been on the other side besides my clothing. All I can say is that you’re right.

  • Carlos Miceli Reply

    People respect me on the street every week day. I dress very elegant for work, makes sense that I make a better impression on them. But on the weekends I dress so casually that people almost fear me. I love sweatpants, crappy t-shirts and hats. It’s fun to put yourself on the other side, makes you understand what people consider important.

    Also, in case you’re wondering, I’ve truly been on the other side besides my clothing. All I can say is that you’re right.

  • Susan Pogorzelski Reply

    Matt: I love this post and the message behind it. Truth be told, we live in a time where you have to watch your back — where you have to be suspicious. It’s a fact that I hate, as the optimist in me likes to believe the best in everyone, as I do often give people the benefit of the doubt, but the realist says to keep alert because you may get screwed over. Once you prove to me that I can trust you, then I’ll completely let down my guard and help you in whatever way I can.

    However. Often, there are little moments like the one you described where you don’t have the luxury of time. Sometimes, you need to rely on pure instict and go with your gut. And sometimes, you just know what the right thing to do is.

    On the other side of your post and along with Sam’s great thought about “I’ll never regret helping someone; I’ll only regret not helping someone:” When I was around 12, I think, I was at a flea market with my parents. We were wandering around and I happened to see a wallet fall out of a woman’s purse. I walked a few feet, hesitated, then told my parents to wait as I ran back and picked it up for her. She hadn’t even known she had dropped it. Such a simple act that stuck with me for how I felt afterwards. I wonder if she remembers that same situation.

    The point is, though, that I don’t hesitate anymore. We’ve all been there, indeed — on both ends of the spectrum. If only we would all always have someone there when we needed it. Makes you wonder. Great post!

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      It’s a shame that we have collectively developed that ‘watch your back’ attitude. We listen to our parents and grandparents always talk about how they would play outside until the wee hours of the night, how they would never lock their doors at night. It’s such a dramatic shift that our culture has seen – but it is what it is. We’ve been TAUGHT to be skeptical throughout our lives so breaking free of that is no easy task. Hopefully little things like this will gradually get people thinking in new ways.

      • Susan Pogorzelski Reply

        I agree. And actually, things weren’t so different when I was growing up, either. I remember playing flashlight tag with the neighborhood well after dark, riding my bike with friends to a candy store a couple of miles away…As long as we were home by five, we could take off to a friend’s house and often wander to other friends’ houses in the neighborhood along the way. Not so anymore.

        I’m digressing a bit from your post, but it’s interesting to note just how much times really have changed, and how our attitudes have shifted. The danger was still there, the possibility of being conned was still there, but we might have been less skeptical, a lot more willing to offer that stranger a ride or $20 with less hesitation.

        It’s is what it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a shame.

        • Matt Cheuvront Reply

          Agreed – it’s a sad though to know that our kids won’t be able to experience some of the same joys and comfort than you and I did – times are changing, and it is a shame – here’s to hoping that things will come full circle in the years to come.

  • Susan Pogorzelski Reply

    Matt: I love this post and the message behind it. Truth be told, we live in a time where you have to watch your back — where you have to be suspicious. It’s a fact that I hate, as the optimist in me likes to believe the best in everyone, as I do often give people the benefit of the doubt, but the realist says to keep alert because you may get screwed over. Once you prove to me that I can trust you, then I’ll completely let down my guard and help you in whatever way I can.

    However. Often, there are little moments like the one you described where you don’t have the luxury of time. Sometimes, you need to rely on pure instict and go with your gut. And sometimes, you just know what the right thing to do is.

    On the other side of your post and along with Sam’s great thought about “I’ll never regret helping someone; I’ll only regret not helping someone:” When I was around 12, I think, I was at a flea market with my parents. We were wandering around and I happened to see a wallet fall out of a woman’s purse. I walked a few feet, hesitated, then told my parents to wait as I ran back and picked it up for her. She hadn’t even known she had dropped it. Such a simple act that stuck with me for how I felt afterwards. I wonder if she remembers that same situation.

    The point is, though, that I don’t hesitate anymore. We’ve all been there, indeed — on both ends of the spectrum. If only we would all always have someone there when we needed it. Makes you wonder. Great post!

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      It’s a shame that we have collectively developed that ‘watch your back’ attitude. We listen to our parents and grandparents always talk about how they would play outside until the wee hours of the night, how they would never lock their doors at night. It’s such a dramatic shift that our culture has seen – but it is what it is. We’ve been TAUGHT to be skeptical throughout our lives so breaking free of that is no easy task. Hopefully little things like this will gradually get people thinking in new ways.

      • Susan Pogorzelski Reply

        I agree. And actually, things weren’t so different when I was growing up, either. I remember playing flashlight tag with the neighborhood well after dark, riding my bike with friends to a candy store a couple of miles away…As long as we were home by five, we could take off to a friend’s house and often wander to other friends’ houses in the neighborhood along the way. Not so anymore.

        I’m digressing a bit from your post, but it’s interesting to note just how much times really have changed, and how our attitudes have shifted. The danger was still there, the possibility of being conned was still there, but we might have been less skeptical, a lot more willing to offer that stranger a ride or $20 with less hesitation.

        It’s is what it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a shame.

        • Matt Cheuvront Reply

          Agreed – it’s a sad though to know that our kids won’t be able to experience some of the same joys and comfort than you and I did – times are changing, and it is a shame – here’s to hoping that things will come full circle in the years to come.

  • Grace Boyle Reply

    I love this post. We’ve all been there sums up so much, Matt.

    This is human nature, to do unto others. I always try to remember this and it often softens me. I think we’re pretty jaded and maybe, rightfully so. It’s hard to trust people and I’m sure we have ALL been burned. There are a lot of backpacker/bums in Boulder simply b/c it’s sunny all year and more mild weather and it’s outdoorsy, etc. They often ask for money and it’s slightly frustrating to me, because I work really hard for my money. Sometimes however, I like to hear their story. It doesn’t mean I will give money each time or sometimes it’s my leftovers. I mean, is it any skin off my back?

    In your case, there are times when we’re down on our luck. I have gotten where I am today, definitely because of the help of others. I like to think I can help others in return…

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Your humility is transparent Grace – that is an admirable trait. I share in the mindset of ‘people have helped me to get where I am today, so it’s the least I can do to give back when I can’. It doesn’t have to be by helping bums by giving them money every time they ask – it can be through community service, a tank of gas, or even a smile and saying hello. Sam Davidson up above wrote an article in his ‘5 Minutes of Caring’ series a while back that told everyone to smile and say hello to at least one stranger every day. It’s the LITTLE things that make a BIG difference.

  • Grace Boyle Reply

    I love this post. We’ve all been there sums up so much, Matt.

    This is human nature, to do unto others. I always try to remember this and it often softens me. I think we’re pretty jaded and maybe, rightfully so. It’s hard to trust people and I’m sure we have ALL been burned. There are a lot of backpacker/bums in Boulder simply b/c it’s sunny all year and more mild weather and it’s outdoorsy, etc. They often ask for money and it’s slightly frustrating to me, because I work really hard for my money. Sometimes however, I like to hear their story. It doesn’t mean I will give money each time or sometimes it’s my leftovers. I mean, is it any skin off my back?

    In your case, there are times when we’re down on our luck. I have gotten where I am today, definitely because of the help of others. I like to think I can help others in return…

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Your humility is transparent Grace – that is an admirable trait. I share in the mindset of ‘people have helped me to get where I am today, so it’s the least I can do to give back when I can’. It doesn’t have to be by helping bums by giving them money every time they ask – it can be through community service, a tank of gas, or even a smile and saying hello. Sam Davidson up above wrote an article in his ‘5 Minutes of Caring’ series a while back that told everyone to smile and say hello to at least one stranger every day. It’s the LITTLE things that make a BIG difference.

  • Nicole Relyea Reply

    Great post, Matt. I was thinking of this kind of thing just yesterday when I heard a kid ask a woman if he could borrow her cell and she turned him down. I jumped up and handed him my phone. He was grateful.

    I mean, why not? It’s good to help people out – even just those little things. I often think back to the TA in college who bought me a bus ticket home for Christmas when we were both at the station and I had lost my debit card. She trusted me to pay her back, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if she hadn’t helped me out that day.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Matt.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      You summed it up perfectly: “Why not?” – If we have the ways, means, and opportunity, why wouldn’t we help someone who is humble enough to ask us for help? Thank you for the comment Nicole.

  • Nicole Relyea Reply

    Great post, Matt. I was thinking of this kind of thing just yesterday when I heard a kid ask a woman if he could borrow her cell and she turned him down. I jumped up and handed him my phone. He was grateful.

    I mean, why not? It’s good to help people out – even just those little things. I often think back to the TA in college who bought me a bus ticket home for Christmas when we were both at the station and I had lost my debit card. She trusted me to pay her back, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if she hadn’t helped me out that day.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Matt.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      You summed it up perfectly: “Why not?” – If we have the ways, means, and opportunity, why wouldn’t we help someone who is humble enough to ask us for help? Thank you for the comment Nicole.

  • Stephanie PTY Reply

    I got a flat tire a few years back, right on the on-ramp to a highway. The guy driving in front of me noticed, pulled over, and changed the tire for me. Maybe he felt bad because I was a 20-year-old girl all alone, but whatever the reason, he was really nice about it. We talked for a while and found out we had a few things in common. I never got his name, but I’m eternally thankful. We’ve all really been there. I might get taken advantage of, but I would try to help someone if I could.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      And that’s all that matters Stephanie – helping people when you can – Maybe it truly takes one of these ‘been there’ experiences to know what it feels like to be ‘helpless’ and dependent on others, in both of our cases, dependent on a complete stranger. Thanks for the comment!

  • Stephanie PTY Reply

    I got a flat tire a few years back, right on the on-ramp to a highway. The guy driving in front of me noticed, pulled over, and changed the tire for me. Maybe he felt bad because I was a 20-year-old girl all alone, but whatever the reason, he was really nice about it. We talked for a while and found out we had a few things in common. I never got his name, but I’m eternally thankful. We’ve all really been there. I might get taken advantage of, but I would try to help someone if I could.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      And that’s all that matters Stephanie – helping people when you can – Maybe it truly takes one of these ‘been there’ experiences to know what it feels like to be ‘helpless’ and dependent on others, in both of our cases, dependent on a complete stranger. Thanks for the comment!

  • Sam Reply

    Matt, this is a wonderful reminder. Unfortunately, we live in a very skeptical, paranoid society, and you’re right that every one of us would have the same initial reaction that you did. I think the other Sam makes a great point. Whether we choose to help someone or not, the important thing is if we’ll regret our decision later on. This concept reminds me of a well-known quote from the Holocaust. I used it in my guest post for the Inconvenience of Change:

    First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist;
    Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist;
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist;
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew;
    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak out for me.
    –Pastor Martin Niemöller

    We’ve all been there, and if we haven’t we probably will be there at some point in our lives. If we’re not there for others when they need us, how can we expect people to be there for us?

    • Anita Lobo Reply

      Sam this is a beautiful quote. Thanks for sharing. Cheers Anita

  • Sam Reply

    Matt, this is a wonderful reminder. Unfortunately, we live in a very skeptical, paranoid society, and you’re right that every one of us would have the same initial reaction that you did. I think the other Sam makes a great point. Whether we choose to help someone or not, the important thing is if we’ll regret our decision later on. This concept reminds me of a well-known quote from the Holocaust. I used it in my guest post for the Inconvenience of Change:

    First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist;
    Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist;
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist;
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew;
    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak out for me.
    –Pastor Martin Niemöller

    We’ve all been there, and if we haven’t we probably will be there at some point in our lives. If we’re not there for others when they need us, how can we expect people to be there for us?

    • Anita Lobo Reply

      Sam this is a beautiful quote. Thanks for sharing. Cheers Anita

  • Fred Reply

    The guy probably WAS scamming you. I’ve gotten this routine in multiple cities in the past few months. Your suggestion to combat skepticism is utter gullibility? And I’m somewhat surprised that everyone seems to like this idea.

    There’s got to be a better option than just falling for this and encouraging him to do it to other people. Living in a bad part of town in a big city, you see this kind of thing all the time.

    It’s one thing to run out of gas. It’s another thing to be AT a gas station, claiming to have no money, and no friends or family that you can call to come help you and that you need $20.

    Next time, offer to call the police to help him. If he’s really a stranded motorist, he’ll gladly take official assistance. If he’s not, he’ll put up a big stink, get angry, and probably get in his car and drive to another gas station in the next town over.

    Kindness is not enough, and laziness in discerning who really needs help and who is a crook is not a virtue. Kindness + savvy is how the truly needy get help and the scammers and bums get put out of business and hopefully into some kind of center for rehabilitation.

    • Benjamin Reply

      I don’t think you should attack Matt and the other commenters solely because you think they are gullable. I think he is trying to make the point that we should think twice before we brush someone off as a scam artist. He was able to spark some conversation (one of the things Matt has become known for) by suggesting that our first assessment of the person might not be accurate.

      I appreciate that you live in a bad neighborhood and might need to be on your guard more than most, but that doesn’t mean everyone living there is trying to steal your cash. However, I think you are right in using the “call the police to assist” suggestion for the stranded motorist for a good alternative for someone soliciting at a gas station.

      While I was living in downtown Chicago, there were several people who would ask for change. It was very cold in December and I sincerely felt bad for those who didn’t have shelter in which to stay out of the cold. Many times I would be walking home from a restaurant with leftovers and would offer them to people who asked for money. That was a good BS test for them for if they were really hungry or just wanted my cash. That supreme deep dish Geno’s East pizza was much better than anything else they could have found! :-)

      • Matt Cheuvront Reply

        Let the record show that I didn’t give this guy cash – I walked into the station and paid for $20 worth of gas. Scamming or not – the money went to filling up his tank, not on booze or drugs. Call me gullible, but I see it as helping someone out in need, regardless of whether he was really down on his luck or was a gas-guzzling con artist.

        The point here isn’t to give handouts to anyone and everyone. The idea is that before he even said a word to me, I put my guard up. I automatically perceieved him as a liar and a cheat before a word came out of his mouth. By writing this post – I’m suggesting to everyone that maybe we shouldn’t write someone off before hearing them out. If I made you think, mission accomplished.

        • Monica O'Brien Reply

          Matt, this is definitely the best way to give the handout. I did a presentation on homeless people in Chicago last year, and the suggestion is always to actually purchase the items requested rather than giving cash. Also if you are going to buy food for someone, it’s better to purchase something healthy like fruits or fresh sandwiches at a convenience store, than to give the person your McDonald’s leftovers. There’s nothing horribly wrong with McDonald’s, but 9 times out of 10 these people are eating fast food. It’s just not healthy to eat that type of food all the time.

          Anyway, interesting post Matt. I do agree with some of the other commentors that keeping your guard up is important, but I also feel that none of us are stupid. You can generally tell if the guy really needs gas by the fact that he has a car and he just poured gas into it. He’s probably not trying to get drugs instead.

  • Fred Reply

    The guy probably WAS scamming you. I’ve gotten this routine in multiple cities in the past few months. Your suggestion to combat skepticism is utter gullibility? And I’m somewhat surprised that everyone seems to like this idea.

    There’s got to be a better option than just falling for this and encouraging him to do it to other people. Living in a bad part of town in a big city, you see this kind of thing all the time.

    It’s one thing to run out of gas. It’s another thing to be AT a gas station, claiming to have no money, and no friends or family that you can call to come help you and that you need $20.

    Next time, offer to call the police to help him. If he’s really a stranded motorist, he’ll gladly take official assistance. If he’s not, he’ll put up a big stink, get angry, and probably get in his car and drive to another gas station in the next town over.

    Kindness is not enough, and laziness in discerning who really needs help and who is a crook is not a virtue. Kindness + savvy is how the truly needy get help and the scammers and bums get put out of business and hopefully into some kind of center for rehabilitation.

    • Benjamin Reply

      I don’t think you should attack Matt and the other commenters solely because you think they are gullable. I think he is trying to make the point that we should think twice before we brush someone off as a scam artist. He was able to spark some conversation (one of the things Matt has become known for) by suggesting that our first assessment of the person might not be accurate.

      I appreciate that you live in a bad neighborhood and might need to be on your guard more than most, but that doesn’t mean everyone living there is trying to steal your cash. However, I think you are right in using the “call the police to assist” suggestion for the stranded motorist for a good alternative for someone soliciting at a gas station.

      While I was living in downtown Chicago, there were several people who would ask for change. It was very cold in December and I sincerely felt bad for those who didn’t have shelter in which to stay out of the cold. Many times I would be walking home from a restaurant with leftovers and would offer them to people who asked for money. That was a good BS test for them for if they were really hungry or just wanted my cash. That supreme deep dish Geno’s East pizza was much better than anything else they could have found! :-)

      • Matt Cheuvront Reply

        Let the record show that I didn’t give this guy cash – I walked into the station and paid for $20 worth of gas. Scamming or not – the money went to filling up his tank, not on booze or drugs. Call me gullible, but I see it as helping someone out in need, regardless of whether he was really down on his luck or was a gas-guzzling con artist.

        The point here isn’t to give handouts to anyone and everyone. The idea is that before he even said a word to me, I put my guard up. I automatically perceieved him as a liar and a cheat before a word came out of his mouth. By writing this post – I’m suggesting to everyone that maybe we shouldn’t write someone off before hearing them out. If I made you think, mission accomplished.

        • Monica O'Brien Reply

          Matt, this is definitely the best way to give the handout. I did a presentation on homeless people in Chicago last year, and the suggestion is always to actually purchase the items requested rather than giving cash. Also if you are going to buy food for someone, it’s better to purchase something healthy like fruits or fresh sandwiches at a convenience store, than to give the person your McDonald’s leftovers. There’s nothing horribly wrong with McDonald’s, but 9 times out of 10 these people are eating fast food. It’s just not healthy to eat that type of food all the time.

          Anyway, interesting post Matt. I do agree with some of the other commentors that keeping your guard up is important, but I also feel that none of us are stupid. You can generally tell if the guy really needs gas by the fact that he has a car and he just poured gas into it. He’s probably not trying to get drugs instead.

  • Benjamin Reply

    Great post Matt. As always, you are able to get people to think and start a conversation.

    I am to the point of an auto respond when it comes to people asking for change. I will either walk by and say nothing or tell them that I don’t have money. It honestly doesn’t feel great when I do it, but I feel like there is no other alternative. Sometimes you feel that people will scam you out of all of your money if you let them. This post has made me think twice about those people, that I should become more proactive in trying to help.

  • Benjamin Reply

    Great post Matt. As always, you are able to get people to think and start a conversation.

    I am to the point of an auto respond when it comes to people asking for change. I will either walk by and say nothing or tell them that I don’t have money. It honestly doesn’t feel great when I do it, but I feel like there is no other alternative. Sometimes you feel that people will scam you out of all of your money if you let them. This post has made me think twice about those people, that I should become more proactive in trying to help.

  • LiLu Reply

    As someone living in D.C., I pretty much HAVE to assume that everyone’s trying to screw me out of that 20 bucks. But I’ll take this and try to be a little more aware about who might actually just need a little help from a stranger in a bad moment. Loved this. :-)

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Thanks for the comment LiLu – I would say you are probably right in your assumption that most people are out to screw you – and my advice here isn’t to throw caution to the wind and extend a hand of generosity to everyone and everyone (not to mention that’s most likely not financially feasible). But, heightening your awareness a bit and opening your mind to the thought of helping people when you can is what matters.

      Hope to see you reading and commenting around here more often!

  • LiLu Reply

    As someone living in D.C., I pretty much HAVE to assume that everyone’s trying to screw me out of that 20 bucks. But I’ll take this and try to be a little more aware about who might actually just need a little help from a stranger in a bad moment. Loved this. :-)

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Thanks for the comment LiLu – I would say you are probably right in your assumption that most people are out to screw you – and my advice here isn’t to throw caution to the wind and extend a hand of generosity to everyone and everyone (not to mention that’s most likely not financially feasible). But, heightening your awareness a bit and opening your mind to the thought of helping people when you can is what matters.

      Hope to see you reading and commenting around here more often!

  • Jaym Reply

    It’s always a tough call.

    When I was in Chicago working (and therefore HAD money- novel idea), there are of course, countless “bums” and others requesting “a few coins”. Frankly, because I had the cash, and my nature, I like to be the good guy and I often gave ‘em a buck or two- even if I knew that it was probably going to alcohol. I figure that’s not my demon to conquer- and just maybe one of ‘em will take the money and use it for food or other help.

    But when it comes to “non-bums”- those unclear situations where you just don’t know, is this person scamming me, are they safe, etc. It’s so much more difficult. If it’s just about giving money, the worst case is losing the cash. When it’s REAL questionable is if it’s about giving someone a lift. You’ve heard the stories of attacks from hitchhikers- it’s always hazy what to do.

    I was in Kroger’s parking lot once and a young black woman asked me if I could give her a ride home because her grandmother couldn’t get to her and she missed her bus or something. My instinct was to decline- I don’t know her, she could pull a gun on me, etc. But then I just thought- you know, I’m going to try to be the good guy here and assume the best.

    I gave her a ride to her front door, and while talking to her on the way there, found out she had a slight mental disorder- I don’t know what type, but she was a bit slow and found it hard to formulate sentences easily. But she was a sweet girl that lived with her grandmother and was harmless as a fly.

    After dropping her off I thought in hindsight that it was MUCH more of a risk for her than me. She had asked a complete stranger in me to take her home- get into my car. She placed a lot of trust in me. I’m 6’1 and 280- I could EASILY have overpowered her- or I could have been a “bad guy” with a weapon. So she was the one taking the risk- though truly I was as well, as I knew none of this beforehand.

    It comes down to the basic truth: If everyone started to trust in one another more, we might find we become a better nation as a whole. Obviously there’s always going to be dangerous people out there, and scammers- but perhaps it’s worth losing $20 every so often for the other instances that you truly are helping another person out!

    Just don’t pick up anyone on the side of the road holding an axe or machete. Unless they have a case of Bud Light.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Hah – A machete is usually a pretty good warning sign. In all seriousness, you are completely right here – if we all put a little more trust in one another, if our first response wasn’t one of skepticism and pessimism, we would, collectively, be much better off. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Jaym Reply

    It’s always a tough call.

    When I was in Chicago working (and therefore HAD money- novel idea), there are of course, countless “bums” and others requesting “a few coins”. Frankly, because I had the cash, and my nature, I like to be the good guy and I often gave ‘em a buck or two- even if I knew that it was probably going to alcohol. I figure that’s not my demon to conquer- and just maybe one of ‘em will take the money and use it for food or other help.

    But when it comes to “non-bums”- those unclear situations where you just don’t know, is this person scamming me, are they safe, etc. It’s so much more difficult. If it’s just about giving money, the worst case is losing the cash. When it’s REAL questionable is if it’s about giving someone a lift. You’ve heard the stories of attacks from hitchhikers- it’s always hazy what to do.

    I was in Kroger’s parking lot once and a young black woman asked me if I could give her a ride home because her grandmother couldn’t get to her and she missed her bus or something. My instinct was to decline- I don’t know her, she could pull a gun on me, etc. But then I just thought- you know, I’m going to try to be the good guy here and assume the best.

    I gave her a ride to her front door, and while talking to her on the way there, found out she had a slight mental disorder- I don’t know what type, but she was a bit slow and found it hard to formulate sentences easily. But she was a sweet girl that lived with her grandmother and was harmless as a fly.

    After dropping her off I thought in hindsight that it was MUCH more of a risk for her than me. She had asked a complete stranger in me to take her home- get into my car. She placed a lot of trust in me. I’m 6’1 and 280- I could EASILY have overpowered her- or I could have been a “bad guy” with a weapon. So she was the one taking the risk- though truly I was as well, as I knew none of this beforehand.

    It comes down to the basic truth: If everyone started to trust in one another more, we might find we become a better nation as a whole. Obviously there’s always going to be dangerous people out there, and scammers- but perhaps it’s worth losing $20 every so often for the other instances that you truly are helping another person out!

    Just don’t pick up anyone on the side of the road holding an axe or machete. Unless they have a case of Bud Light.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Hah – A machete is usually a pretty good warning sign. In all seriousness, you are completely right here – if we all put a little more trust in one another, if our first response wasn’t one of skepticism and pessimism, we would, collectively, be much better off. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Cj Reply

    Hi Matt,
    I am following you from Rebecca Thorman-Modite. Personally, I’ve had to check my cynicism at the door – recently on several occasions I’ve met with the local “run out of gas” scammer and it’s made me jaded to those who are really in need. But there has been a pulling at my heartstrings as I’ve had flashbacks to an incident. A few years ago there was a young lady with two kids and a broken down car on the side of the road. Thank God we stopped…she was leaving a domestic situation and was on her way to her parents home to begin rebuilding her life. We fed them lunch, the kids played and I personally spoke with her Mom…who was grateful for our assistance. She stayed at the house for about 4 hours before her brothers could pick her up. This incident made me so aware that we are our brother’s keeper and with wisdom and discernment we can identify those truly in need versus those that have made “need” an occupation. Matt, this is a great post…I look forward to following you.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Welcome CJ – I’m glad you stumbled across my humble blog and kudos to Rebecca for providing the indirect introduction. You are exactly right – we are our brother’s keeper and it’s part of being human to help one another when the situation calls for it. Was I scammed in the situation above? Maybe so – but I don’t miss the money – It felt like the right thing to do at the time and I’m going to assume that this guy was actually in need.

  • Cj Reply

    Hi Matt,
    I am following you from Rebecca Thorman-Modite. Personally, I’ve had to check my cynicism at the door – recently on several occasions I’ve met with the local “run out of gas” scammer and it’s made me jaded to those who are really in need. But there has been a pulling at my heartstrings as I’ve had flashbacks to an incident. A few years ago there was a young lady with two kids and a broken down car on the side of the road. Thank God we stopped…she was leaving a domestic situation and was on her way to her parents home to begin rebuilding her life. We fed them lunch, the kids played and I personally spoke with her Mom…who was grateful for our assistance. She stayed at the house for about 4 hours before her brothers could pick her up. This incident made me so aware that we are our brother’s keeper and with wisdom and discernment we can identify those truly in need versus those that have made “need” an occupation. Matt, this is a great post…I look forward to following you.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      Welcome CJ – I’m glad you stumbled across my humble blog and kudos to Rebecca for providing the indirect introduction. You are exactly right – we are our brother’s keeper and it’s part of being human to help one another when the situation calls for it. Was I scammed in the situation above? Maybe so – but I don’t miss the money – It felt like the right thing to do at the time and I’m going to assume that this guy was actually in need.

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