The road to hell is paved with helpful people.

We’ve all seen it, whether we’re blind or otherwise disabled or not. We’re in the middle of something, and all of a sudden we’ve got an extra pair of hands–or sometimes two–we weren’t planning on. Some well-meaning soul has decided we could use that extra pair of hands, for reasons known only to them, even while things wouldn’t go anymore perfectly if you paid them. You almost feel bad about turning them away–after all they were, as they’ll tell you if you’ll let them, “only trying to help”. But if you don’t, you’ll have a whole new problem to deal with–these same well-meaning people guessing at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and in the process, that thing you thought should only take you 10 minutes is now making quick work of the better part of half an hour.

This, I think, becomes even more noticeable if you happen to also be blind and trying, for instance, to avoid small armies of people while getting yourself from A to B. At least, it’s more noticeable if you’re me. To the tune of this happened at least three times throughout the course of yesterday–when all I was doing, as it happens, was going to and from class… Which I’ve done for ages, now.

It’s the first week back to class for most people, so naturally everything gets several different flavours of chaotic. And my schedule this term has me either coming or going right when the not quite so organized chaos is potentially at its worst in some places. But because I’ve been doing this for ages, the fact that there are more people trying to squeeze themselves down every hallway in every direction than should even be possible doesn’t overly concern me–provided, that is, they’re not standing in the middle of that hallway staring at their phone and therefore oblivious to the fact they’re about to be warned of my approach by way of a stick across the knees. On my way to class, I had two particular very well-meaning people stop me for the sole purpose of asking 1: if I knew where I was going, 2: if I knew how to get there, 3: if I needed help to get there, and 4: if I was really, really sure I didn’t need help to get there–this after one of those people kept themselves a few feet behind me and called out directions to the door of the building, which… Well… I was rather already heading for, though perhaps not exactly how he invisioned it. One of them even offered to guide me directly to where I was going, just in case. Which I suppose seemed like a good idea at the time, right up until they needed to ask someone else for directions to an area I conveniently enough have to walk right past to get to my classes. They meant well, and I didn’t end up late for class, so in that respect even if they couldn’t help, they didn’t hurt.

The problem shows up, though, when people skip the asking and get right to the helping. Now, I like to think I know my way around campus enough that I can hit most places fairly easily. There are a few tricky spots, mostly on account of I rarely go there, but for the most part I’ve ended up being the one giving directions. Still, when it gets chaotic, I occasionally need to find me a spot out of the way and wait–not necessarily for people to get out of the way, but so I can figure out more accurately where exactly people are. Let me explain largely how I work for travel purposes.

Everything, if you’re me, becomes a reference point. And I do mean everything. Walls, furniture, rooms I’m walking past, people–if it’s there, I can probably use it. If you’re coming out of a hallway behind me, I can easily use the direction you’re heading in to figure out where I should be going. And I’ve done this thing too many times to count–to the point now that I almost do it subconsciously, and have probably done it more than once without realizing. So if I’ve decided to occupy a spot out of the way for half a second, it’s probably because in a section of the campus where there are something like 2 or 3 very closely aligned hallways, I’d prefer not to have to guess at which one and spend the next 5 minutes undoing what I just did because I guessed the wrong one. I don’t need to do that very often–I can usually cruise right on through without breaking stride, but there are days.

On one of those days, it was slightly busier than usual–I think the college was doing some sort of open house session, possibly. There were probably three times the people there that there’d normally be. Again, no big thing–I do it so often now that people are just another indicator of where I am and where I’m going. But there’s one particular place at the college where there are two almost identical hallways that will take you to very different parts of the campus. Those hallways are at a slight angle from each other–you could come out of one, lean a slight right turn, and end up down the other while being half asleep. So if you’re approaching that spot from another direction, it’s very easy–and I’ve seen too many people do this just by not thinking–to aim for one hallway, miss, and end up down the other–only realizing it when they actually stop talking long enough to look at the rooms they’re passing. On this day, that spot on campus was rather full of people doing it didn’t look like much. Most of them were trying to push past the rest of them, who were seeming to be content with just taking up space. I was doing my usual navigational trick, ducking in and around small clumps of people wherever I could invent me a hole. Some kind soul thought they’d do me a favour and direct me out of the majority of that group of people and toward the other side of that intersection. There was just one very small problem, and it took me a stretch to realize it was staring at me. The hallway he directed me to and the hallway I actually needed to find were two entirely different–and, arguably, completely unrelated–things. So I get to where I know my classroom should be, come to find out instead I’m walking into a small cafeteria (bright side: I now know where I can go to hide if I want food and no one to find me). Then there’s the small matter of the obligatory few minutes figuring out where in the hell I am and how in the hell I got there. Eventually, I managed to answer both questions, then figured out how I’d be getting back to where I needed to be–which was easier this time, given I was already in the same general area, and the majority of the people who would have been otherwise in my way the first time had cleared out, so that was the end of that. Again, I didn’t end up being late for class–though in this case, that may have had more to do with the fact the professor was, but if that had been my first actual exposure to campus, things could have probably ended up going a lot differently and very quickly.

There’s a rule I like to toss at people when they get surprised their help didn’t produce the expected results. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. If you already know exactly what you’re doing, or where you’re going, and someone comes along to offer help, things get complicated before either of you catches on–mostly because they know what you’re trying to do, but if they can’t wrap their head around how you’re doing it, they’re going to do it their own way–and their own way is going to probably not give you the results you’re after. And this is why, as much as it gives some folks I used to run with a headache, I don’t often opt for accepting the volunteered help–whether or not they’ve asked first before volunteering. I know where I’m going. I know how to get there. You might even know the same thing. But I know the way that gets me there in about 5 minutes. If you take a different way because, for whatever reason, you don’t know mine, I may not have any idea where we’re going–it depends on how creative I’ve been with my wandering the place ahead of time. Which also means if you decide that no, you actually don’t know how to get where we’re going, or if it turns out the way you know doesn’t work out for any number of reasons, not only have you actually not been helpful–but I may not necessarily be able to undo it and get back to doing what I know eventually works. It’s no slight against the helpful–sometimes, it’s actually incredibly useful. But often, some might say far too often, the road to hell is paved with helpful people. And if you’re already having a day, it’s an incredibly short drive.

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