If you see a car stalled on the side of the road, you’re likely to drive past it. If you see someone pushing their car down the street, you’re more likely to stop and help.
This phenomenon translates in all sorts of scenarios, and works for a few reasons. First – why do you drive by when you see a car stalled on the side of the road? It’s not because you’re a bad person or callously indifferent to the suffering of others. No, you drive by because there’s probably not a lot you can do, and it’s probably not an emergency. Cars stall and break down all the time, and in most cases you call a tow truck or a friend or whatever and you solve it. Unless you can do something special that the driver can’t, there’s seldom anything meaningful you can contribute.
Now, let’s look at the other example – someone pushing their car.
Why do you stop? Well for one, if someone is pushing their car (as opposed to sitting around waiting for a tow truck or a ride), then the need seems more immediate. You don’t push a car unless you have to. Maybe this person genuinely can’t afford a tow or a taxi. Maybe they don’t have a cell phone so they can call someone. This is someone with a more genuine, immediate need, and the good in us demands we help.
But there’s another reason. We stop and help because there’s an obvious way we can do so. I don’t have to be a mechanic or own a truck. Almost anyone can help push.
And there’s even one more big reason, maybe the biggest – the person pushing their car isn’t just sitting around waiting to be rescued. They’re doing what they can.
What’s the lesson? People are more likely to help not just when it seems like a more severe situation, but also when it’s obvious that they even can help, and when the person they’re helping looks like they’re putting in their own best effort. In any situation, you can do those things as well.
If you have a difficult situation and you want help, making it easy to figure out how to help you and showing that you’re doing your best already are both excellent ways to foster good will among the good Samaritans. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. But don’t ask and then sit around – get out and push.