Can I Ask You a Question?


You have to make a decision that you were not prepared to make. This is what happens when a stranger contacts you to ask for help. It can happen anywhere, but when it happens face-to-face, it is a compelling situation. The stranger has inserted himself/herself into your life and he/she has taken an overt action to attempt to alter the course of your life briefly…or forever. What will you do?


The advantage is with the stranger. While you are unprepared for the encounter, the stranger has prepared, and is possibly well-prepared to overcome your hesitation. If this happens to you while you are alone, in a questionable location, or if you are vulnerable (injured, ill, pregnant, with a small child, tired, or other), you may have only seconds to do something to convince the stranger that you have deviated from his/her planned encounter with you. I will give you an example of a shift of advantage. I was half way home from an out-of-state business trip. I stopped to refuel my car at an auto/truck stop. While I was pumping gas, a young man came up behind me. As I turned to put the gas pump away, there he was, about six feet away. He said, “Can I ask you a question?” I had seconds to react. My thoughts were: He looks about mid-thirties, his appearance is rough, a little dirty, and he has two studs embedded in his lower lip. He was not rude or threatening with his question, but his eyes were locked on mine. He was serious about whatever it was that he wanted from me. My answer was this: “Sure. Go stand by the entrance of the store. We will walk inside and talk there.” I said that in a kind way, not threatening, but I left no room for debate.

Plan Changed

The stranger’s face changed to a bewildered look. His eyes dropped to stare at my feet. Now, he had seconds to react to something unexpected. He started to say something that sounded like an excuse of why he could not do what I asked him to do. Now, I had a better idea of what he was about. He did not want to go near to where the store manager was or where his face might be seen better and recorded by a camera. If he needed help, he might have gone directly to the store manager. Instead, he picked me out of a dozen travelers pumping gas. If he needed help, he would call his family, his friends, his co-workers. If he had no such people in his life, and was a traveler like me, why was it that he had no resources with him to get out of jam?

You Do Not Know

If you are a good person, the kind of person who believes in the better nature of humanity, a religious person who believes that God steers those in need to good people like you, or if you simply believe what people tell you, most likely, you are exactly who every stranger wants to meet in order to get whatever it is that they want. It may be that the stranger’s need for your help is genuine, that you can help, and that you may consider doing that to be one of the better moments of your life. You wouldn’t want to miss that moment, would you? Can you think of any reason why you could not have that happy experience inside the store? I couldn’t either. So, when the stranger offered me a lame excuse about why he could not do what I asked him to do, I said this, “Hey! Go over to the door and wait for me now.” He left. I watched him walk out to the road, stick out his thumb, and try to get departing truck drivers to give him a ride.


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