The difference between helping, protecting, and just being considerate
Last week I posted an article exploring some aspects of toxic masculinity via a date I went on in December 2020. The article received quite a few comments, but one in particular kept coming up that I could not figure out until someone graciously explained their viewpoint in great detail.
In the article, I mentioned that my date did not extend the same consideration for my safety that he would have extended to his adult daughter. The response to this point from commenters was, consistently, that the guy was not invested in me enough to consider being worth protecting. A few commenters went on to helpfully explain that protection is reserved only for family and very close friends.
Setting aside the implications of territory and ownership that this perspective infers, it finally makes sense why my comment of expecting someone to “be considerate” rocketed straight to “be considered worth protecting”: apparently there is some confusion between the meaning of consideration and protection.
Imagine you are on your way into the post office to pick up a letter someone has sent you. Your post office has really heavy old doors that you have to really pull on to open, and that are weighted to swing closed behind each user. You pull open the door, and notice there is someone approaching behind you whose arms are loaded up with packages to mail. It’s obvious that if you simply keep going at your normal pace, the door will swing shut in their face. So you decide to slow down a bit, maybe giving the door an extra push away with your elbow, so the person behind you can enter too.
That is consideration.
Maybe you decide to stop moving and actually hold the door open for the person so they can pass through. It’s still consideration. You are being considerate of someone else.
Let’s say you offer to ease their burden, take some of the packages from them and bring them to the counter for postage. Or maybe you’ve got lots of energy and offer to bring the rest of the packages they have in their car. That’s nice of you!
Either way, that’s helping.
But let’s say you’ve actually just continued through the door, and glance back just in time to notice that not only will the door slam in that person’s face, but probably on the person as well. So you run back and put yourself in between the heavy door and the person, so they don’t get hurt. You’ve gone out of your way and put yourself at risk to prevent another person from being harmed.
That is protecting.
Maybe you are only willing to put yourself in harm’s way for someone you have a close relationship with. That’s fine… but please don’t cry “not all men” if you judge the value of someone’s life, or whether they’re worthy of help, based solely on their relationship to you.
Now, let’s say the person carrying the packages is wearing a hat that reads “The Juggling Acrobat — watch my balancing act!” You can see this hat over their tower of packages, and now you know this person actually has the skills to balance the packages and move nimbly enough to get through the closing door, whether you hold it open for them or not. I mean, they are literally broadcasting their skills to you.
So what do you do? Do you just shrug and say, “eh, they can handle this” and go on your way? Or do you still slow your walk and give the door an extra push so they can enter too, without having to be nimble, without having pull out the acrobatics?
Because, you know, they didn’t come to the post office to put on a show. They just want to mail some packages at the place where people do that.
Regardless of this person’s circus skills, let’s say you are considerate and you hold the door open for them. They pass through, but don’t thank you for it. Would it be nice of them to thank you? Yes, of course. Would it be the right thing to do? Absolutely. Who knows why they didn’t thank you (maybe they didn’t see you over the packages!), but it also begs the question: was the only reason you held open the door was to get a reward? I mean, did you hold open the door for the thank you, or just because it’s a decent thing to do?
Are you doing things for others to collect gratitude?
Let’s change the scenario one more time: let’s say you hold open the door, and the person doesn’t enter. Instead, they stop in their tracks and say, “no thank you.” What?! Why? Can’t they see you are holding open the door for them? Do they not appreciate your generosity of spirit and soul? “Are you sure?” you ask them. They confirm that they are sure: they do not want to enter at this time.
Sometimes this happens in real life, and usually the person holding open the door just shrugs and moves on with their day. “They must have their reasons,” the door-holder tells themselves, recognizing both that the package-bearer knows their own mind, and that it’s nothing personal. Perhaps the package-bearer is waiting for a friend — they made a pact to enter the post office together (maybe it’s a heist!). Whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with the door-holder.
But in the story, you’re the door-holder. And you question them again, insisting that they walk through the door, because you are holding it open and you don’t have all day and this isn’t convenient for you in the first place.
All of which makes you: a pest.
You enter the post office, and a few minutes later, the package-holder enters too… after refusing to enter when you were holding the door open for them! So now what do you do? Do you trip them as they pass by, or jostle them in line so their packages fall? Do you take that rejection out on them, punish them for not appreciating how very generous you are, for not being grateful that you even acknowledged their existence in the first place?
I hope not. Because that makes you: abusive.
Let’s say none of these things happened. Let’s say, you’re at the post office to pick up a letter someone has sent to you. You pull open the heavy door, about to walk through. As the door starts to swing shut, you notice someone behind you carrying a tower of packages to be mailed. You slow long enough to keep the door open, so they can enter too.
“Thanks, man” says the package-bearer.
“No problem,” you say back.
You get to the counter, but the postal worker can’t give you your letter because there is postage due: 28 cents. You don’t have any change or cash on you, and the minimum amount to put on your ATM card is $1. So frustrating!
“Hey, I’ve got some change,” says a voice behind you. It’s the package-bearer you held the door open for. They hand over two quarters. “Here you go,” they offer. You take it, so you can get your letter.
And that is called karma.
If this story resonates with you, please give it a clap so others can find it. Find more of my writing and work here on Medium at @susiekahlich .