I’m sitting with my back comfortably slouched on my 6:30 pm train home, and I find myself starring at a woman who’s slowly waddling her way through the narrow isle of the train looking for a seat.
She pauses at the door separating us from the other train cabin. I watch as she looks through the rectangular window in hopes of a seat, then looks back – I’m assuming, to see if the young gentleman on her left notices her efforts and would kindly offer his seat. He doesn’t.
After a few moments of what looked like careful deliberation, she awkwardly muscles her way through the two-door barrier into the next cabin, with her bags hitting every possible part of the doorway.
Then the strangest thing happened, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. Dammit Eva, you should’ve offered her your seat.
I did think about it, whether I should get up and walk by four other strangers to ask her if she’d like my seat. I mean, she was carrying two big purses and a large clear bag of unidentifiable heavy stuff.
As I was about to get up, my brain said:
Wait, she might be offended. She’ll think that I’m assuming she needs a seat because I think she’s old and helpless … Never mind, forget it.
My brain could’ve easily said:
I really like my seat right now, I’m comfortable. I hope she’ll find a seat in the next cart.
But no, instead I was rationalizing with myself about why I’m still a good samaritan despite my (lack there of) actions. On a scale of 1 to crazy, this would probably register around a 6.
So why did I do it?
Here’s my N=1 theory: I was making excuses for my behaviour because it opposed a belief that I have of myself – I am a good person that helps out strangers.
It’s true that I’m a weirdo that prides herself in buying a stranger’s coffee, keeping the door open for grandmas, and generally trying to make the world a better place. I like helping people. But more often than not, it’s a selfish act to gain self-efficacy, appreciation and all the other feels – I’m not a righteous individual by any means.
We’ve all done something (or should’ve but didn’t) that doesn’t fit with our inner (and/or outer) perceptions of ourselves. We’ve all felt that guilt.
It could be that you tout your strict gym routines and clean nutrition Monday to Friday, only to find yourself huddled up under your covers with a box of donuts, watching an endless stream of Orange is the New Black. And when your friends text you about what you’re doing, you say: chilling.
Or you tell yourself (and others) that you value and love your family, that they are the most important people in your life. But come Friday night, you’re skipping family dinner for your friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s birthday party.
I’m not here to judge. I just want to say it’s okay. It’s okay to choose yourself sometimes, be selfish and make bad decisions; it doesn’t make you a terrible person. But own it, no lame excuses. I could’ve made a better decision today as a good human being, but I was comfortable and I wanted my seat.
But I do hope she found a seat.