I have a strange occurrence that happens to me regularly. Everywhere I go, I seem to get the same question: “Sir, can you help me?” For some reason people think that I look like someone meant to work at places that serve them.
For years, I have been caught off guard by these questions. I seem to always get asked for help when I least expect it. Because of this, my usual response has traditionally been something like: “Wait. What? Sorry, I don’t work here.”
The first time I experienced this phenomenon, I thought that maybe it stemmed from how I was dressed. Granted, you aren’t likely to see me on the cover of GQ anytime soon, but I didn’t think that a pair of khakis and a blue polo shirt was a fashion faux pas. But in hindsight, that attire is pretty much exactly the Best Buy employee uniform. And that is precisely where it first happened…
It was a couple days before Christmas, and the shoppers were frantic. Folks were laser-focused on trying to find gifts for their loved ones. I wasn’t in a hurry. I was just there getting some toner.
Person after person kept coming up to me asking me where the cameras or the video games were located. Every time a customer would approach me, I’d kindly reply, “My apologies, but I don’t work here.” I would try to be helpful if I knew where the product was in the store–making an attempt to point them in the right direction–but the frequency of questioning made the continual occurrence noticeable.
Then it happened. When I gave my response to one man, he quickly cut me off and said, “I don’t care that you don’t work here! Where is it at?” I honestly didn’t know. He shook his head at me in disgust.
As a pastor, I have learned to deal with a lot of tough situations, but for some reason, that one stuck in my craw. In my head, I was thinking, “What the heck? You jerk! I said I don’t work here!”
Once that incident happened, though, I became compelled to figure out why this was happening to me. I made a point to wear different clothes to the store. It didn’t help. I’d wear hats, sunglasses, suits, shorts, hoodies. It didn’t matter; I’d still get asked. I get asked at department stores, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, at conferences, in parks, and at movies. Once, I even got asked while at the opera in a different country. Wherever I go, whatever I wear, it still happens! And after a while, it just started to seem really ridiculous!
Then one day, I was at a toy store buying a toy for my son. For whatever reason, that day, I anticipated the question coming. In that moment, I decided that I would just play along, whether I knew the answer or not. Let’s face it: most questions that people ask in stores are usually easily answered. “Where is this or that product located?” “Where is the restroom?” “Where can I cash out?” “Do you know if this comes in a different size?” I surmised in that moment that even if I didn’t know the answer, I was smart enough that I could help the person figure out the answer.
So that’s what I did. Someone asked me a question about where a toy was located. And, as it so happened, I had just passed that exact toy, so I knew where it was. “Let me show you,” I said.
Then this person asked me about another toy, and I knew the answer to that question as well. After that, they asked about a toy I didn’t know where to find, but I just said, “I’m not sure, but let me help you look.” To my surprise, when the person was out of questions, they thanked me profusely. “It would have taken me all day to find these without help,” they said.
The whole process took maybe 10 minutes. Aside from being a bit freaked out at the realization of how much I knew about the toy store, that experience got me thinking: maybe people think that I look like someone meant to serve them because I am meant to serve them. After all, Jesus calls us to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Surely that applies in these types of situations as well?
So, after some careful discernment and a lot of trial and error, I’ve changed my mind as to how I should respond in these types of situations. Instead of worrying about why people think I work everywhere, I’ve decided to assist as best I can when I am asked to help.
It may seem obvious to you, but for me, it takes some effort. I’ve got in the habit of saying, “Sorry, I don’t work here” instead of intentionally trying to be helpful. But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? If we want to be different—dare I say, better—versions of ourselves, it takes practice.
You see, it doesn’t really matter why people are asking us for help. What matters is that we have been blessed with the opportunity, for whatever reason, to serve others. That is an opportunity that we should be thanking God for, as opposed to actively trying to turn down. I guess that means that, in a way, now I work everywhere.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. When someone asks you for help, what usually informs your response, and why?
2. How do you think the world would be different if everyone was intentional about serving others when they asked for help?
3. What things in your life have you experienced that you consider burdens that you might be able to view as blessings?