in WWYD?

7. What Would You Do?

[It has been awhile since I posted anything in this series, but it is one of my favourite things to do with this blog.  I think it is an important exercise in creative thinking.  Often we will encounter events or people in life and, because they are new to us, we are unsure of how to respond.  Only after the fact do we tend to think, ‘Shit, this is what I should have done…’.  Therefore, I think these exercises can help prepare us to be more conscious to some of these situations, especially, given my own focus, to situations involving street-involved people.]
About a month ago, I stopped into the small coffee shop close to my work to get some caffeine before my shift started.  When I entered the shop I noticed a young woman and a security guard standing by the bar and I originally thought that they were both waiting on drinks (no security guards work there, but they do have an office close by — I work in a bit of a sketchy neighbourhood).  However, I soon realized that the security guard had been called into the shop because the young woman (about 20 years old?) was acting strangely and aggressively.  She was talking to herself, posturing, and going through a wallet — throwing most of its contents into the garbage.  Both the security guard and the girl working at the shop seemed at a bit of a loss as to how to respond to this situation.  The guard tried speaking to her, but she ignored him.  I ordered my coffee and as I waited I noticed that the young woman was not wearing any shoes or socks and that she was also wearing what appeared to be pajama bottoms.
So, what would you do if you were me?  Don’t tell me what you think would be a good thing to do, or what you would want to do.  What, if anything, do you think you would actually do?

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  1. Two things. 1, your website seems messed up, I can’t see any of the text.
    I think I would have asked her if everything was allright, and if there is anything I could do. I may have, depending on the gravity of how she looked told the barista I would pay for her drink and then I would have left.

    • Yeah, you would have been a good person to be there in that situation… especially when I began talking with the young lady and her voices would not allow me to communicate with her directly… I had to speak to her through them (my favourite voice was the one that had the strong Irish accent… even though the young woman was an aboriginal Canadian). I’ve never been too disturbed by this form of communication (or by DID or psychosis… I actually find those things to be pretty fascinating), but most people are, which is why your professional experience would come in handy. Unlike many of us, your work does prepare you to consciously respond to odd encounters that arise in daily life.

  2. (can only comment I what I would do…)
    I tend not to jump into these kind of encounters straight away, so I probably would have changed my coffee order from ‘to-go’ to have there (if thats possible?) and just hung around to get more a feel for the situation and then work out how to involve myself.
    I also find I need a moment or two’s breathing space to wrestle with an inner tension to be either a “Mr Fix-it” or a “Mr cross to the other side of the road” and the time to reject both impulses.
    But it sounds like you managed to do all that while waiting for your coffee, which just means you are quicker / more decisive than me…

  3. Nothing because I wouldn’t know what to do. Then later that evening or perhaps the next day I would figure out something that would have worked. I don’t think well on my feet in awkward social situations.

  4. i probably wouldn’t have done anything and wouldn’t have thought much about it later.

  5. I’d probably feel awkward, walk away, get 50m down the street, do a u-turn, walk back, ask the girl if everything was OK and whether there was any way that I could help, offering to buy her a drink and bite and give her a free set of ears for as long as I thought it was of help. After that, who knows where these things can lead …

  6. If I didn t know her, I would have tried talking to her I guess, and then if this didnt work, I would have talked to the other guys to find out if they knew anything about her, and then I would have felt hesitant because of the guard (I dont like the Powers), and then I guess I would have left, depending on what I could find out from the situation. I wouldn’t know what to do else, if I couldn’t find out where she lived etc. My temptation would also have been just to avoid the situation, but I think by now I would have resisted this impulse. At the same time I know a few people that behaves like this sometimes due to drugs and mental illness, and when it’s not something that can or even needs to be fixed in the very situation. Sometimes a little time and some food and to be helped to calm down a bit takes something of the desperation out of the situation.
    I usually get insecure when trying to respond to people with psychosis. We recently had a guy staying with us for a couple of days whom most people would say has this diagnosis. He is (has been?) a follower of Jesus and a primitivist (living in a hole in the ground in the woods), but know he’s been adopted by the animals and sometimes behaves like an animal. His tendency is to be threatening (although non-violent, as far as I can tell) to other people because of his behaviour, but he hates and fears the authoritites and the institutions, and don’t want to be locked up. I tried to offer him to follow him to the hospital, but he refused. Hard to know what to do.

  7. If I had an IPhone, I would have checked this blog, chosen the best one (or mix of ones) posted here and proceeded.
    But pretending I can think on my feet and not freeze:
    I would observe and see if it might be helpful for me to be involved as a conversation partner (eight’s a party as you found out).
    It is in these situations that you want a non-governmental neighborhood organization around that knows the people with compassion and commitment. I would call this imaginary organization and ask them if they knew her and, if they did, if they had someone who could come down. (this mythical organization would also have grass root connections to places where she could find more long term help, if that was a possibility).

  8. i would also observe for a bit ….. both to give me some time to come fully present to the situation and to process my own tensions. ultimately, i would have touched the girl’s elbow. that may sound really weird ….. but i wonder if talking to her, asking her if i could help …. just seems like it wouldn’t be very effective. i have some family members who live with some interesting realities, and i have found that a physical connection can communicate more than words – but a physical connection that won’t startle or cross personal space boundaries. so i would have tried that and then waited to see if that opened the way for some kind of connection. it might seem to me that somehow penetrating the isolation of the moment is the priority.
    but who knows …. maybe that would have earned me getting decked in the head ….

  9. I would have seen that the security guard was not helpful and thought that he was an idiot. Then I would think to myself who am I to think that I could ‘fix’ this woman with serious psychosis and then walked away.