Helping hand

Engsiong Tan
3 min readSep 4, 2022

Or why a helpful stranger is better than YouTube lessons

Helping Hand
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I do have a strange hobby. I call it a moment of madness. This is when I deliberately choose to go in a new direction or try a new mode of transport. To say that I have gone on some interesting adventure would be an understatement.

But it was my latest adventure when I learnt a new lesson. Or more accurately, I had a masterclass in helping people. I had boarded a “wrong” bus when I heard a woman blurting out, “The bus is going in the wrong direction.” All the people onboard knew what had happen. A new rider had mistaken an express bus for the normal bus. A helpful stranger then informed her that she was onboard an express bus and that she could not get off until the next stop. That stop was ten minutes away.

People are people — Song by Depeche Mode

Helping Emotional people

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

If you think the lost lady was suddenly very attentive, you are mistaken. She started defending herself. No, she knew that she was on the “correct bus”. She had been using public transport for years. She had more excuses, but I had tune her out by then. At this point, I had defaulted to the victim blaming mode. You just need to take responsibility for your own actions.

But the HS (Helpful Stranger) tried to correct the LL (Lost Lady) mistake. But when HS realized that LL was just venting, she kept quiet. Only when LL stopped, did she continue. “Avoid buses that have a suffix behind the number.”

There was no blame attached. No “You should”. Just some facts in a non-judging tone. This sounds very simple but it is exhausting to wait for people to complete venting. The advice was not completely correct but it was better than keeping quiet. The HS knew something that I had chosen to ignore.

Focus on the solution

Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash

LL wanted to go to a destination. LL had not asked how to get to her correct destination. Full Disclosure: LL could not just alight at the next stop and then just head in the opposite direction. There were no express bus heading in the opposite direction. The HS had told her the solution but it was clear to the HS that the LL did not hear it while she was venting.

So HS had to try a different trick. She asked LL where she was going. When LL told her, HS then repeated one of her earlier statements. No, “I told you…” Or “You did not listen …” Just repeating the same statement but this time emphasising on the points that she wanted LL to listen to.

Manners maketh the man

Photo by kevin Xue on Unsplash

The LL was more attentive after she had been listened to. I expect the HS to make a point of LL’s character. That LL should listen more. Or LL should respect her elders. There was no victory lap. No smugness or sarcasm. Just more helpful statements like “You should take the subway in future.” And HS wished LL well after LL thanked her.

Action speaks louder than words. I learnt more from the interaction than all the corporate trainer telling me how to manage angry customers.