After a long day of work, I was going home when it started raining cats and dogs. Worried of drenching I was walking back hurriedly to my apartment, the hood of my jacket pulled tightly to keep the rain out when I saw an elderly man with a walker struggle to descend the slippery stairs of the building. He happened to be my neighbor for many years and had undergone knee surgery in the recent past. When he almost fell, I and several others went over to help.

There was a Taxi waiting for him. I thought he must be going to visit his doctor. The driver was inside, warm and dry, as he watched us straining to help his passenger cross the sidewalk in the pouring rain.

Then he opened the window and yelled over the sound of the rain coming down, “He might not be able to make it.”

“Hold on,” we said (there were five of us now) as we helped the man move around the back of the van, “he can make it.” 

Traffic on the street had stopped. We supported the man from falling a few times, hoisted him back up, and finally got him to the Taxi door, which could not be opened due to some mechanical failure. 

“What about your side door,?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” the driver answered, “hold on.” He put his coat over his head, came out in the rain with the rest of us, and opened the door. Once the man with the walker was in safely, we all began to move away when the driver opened the window one more time and yelled, “Thanks for your help.”

So, here’s my question: Why will five strangers volunteer to help a man they don’t know in the pouring rain —Perhaps the driver simply did not want to help. But I don’t think so. Once we suggested the door, he didn’t resist or complain, he came outside and did it immediately. And he wasn’t obnoxious either. When he thanked us for our help, he seemed sincere. 

Maybe it’s because the driver is not permitted to leave the vehicle? I checked the website to see if there was a policy against drivers assisting passengers. On the contrary, it states “As long as the driver doesn’t lose sight of the vehicle and is not more than 100 feet away from it, the driver can assist you to and from the vehicle, help you up or down the curb or one step and assist you in boarding the vehicle.” 

So why didn’t the driver help? Part of the answer is probably that for him, an old man struggling with a walker isn’t a one-time thing, it’s every day every stop, and the sight doesn’t compel him to act.

But that answer isn’t good enough. That’s when it suddenly hit me: The reason the driver didn’t help might be precisely because he was paid to drive.

Once a famous NGO asked some lawyers if they would reduce their fee to help needy. The lawyers’ answer was no. But another, not so famous NGO had a counter-intuitive brainstorm: they asked the lawyers if they would do it for free. The answer was overwhelmingly yes. 

Because when we consider whether to do something, we subconsciously ask ourselves a simple question: “Am I the kind of person who . . ?” And money changes the answer. When the lawyers were offered lower money, their question was “Am I the kind of person who works for this much low amount of money?” The answer was clearly no. But when they were asked to do it as a favour, their question was “Am I the kind of person who helps people in need?” And then their answer was yes.

So what does this mean? Should we stop paying people? That wouldn’t work for most people. No, we need to pay people a fair amount, so they don’t say to themselves, “I’m not getting paid enough to . . .”

Then we need to tap into their deeper motivation. Ask them: Why are you doing this work? What moves you about it? What gives you the satisfaction of a job well done? What makes you feel good about yourself? 

We can strengthen another person’s motivation not with more money, but by understanding, and supporting, his feelings. “Hey,” the driver’s boss could say, “I know you don’t have to come out of the Taxi to help people, but the fact that you do — and in the rain — that’s a great thing. And it tells me something about you. I appreciate it and I know that man with the walker does too.” Which reinforces the driver’s self-motivation — his feelings — that he’s the kind of person who gets out, in the rain, to help a passenger in need.

Ultimately someone else’s internal motivation is, well, his issue. But there are things we can do that will either discourage or boost his internal drive. And sometimes it’s as simple as what we notice.

It’s not lost on me that I too have a feeling about myself — I’m the kind of a woman who stops on a rainy day to help an elderly man to his Taxi — and that it makes me feel good to tell you about it too. That will make it more likely that I’ll do it again in the future.

As I left the place and started moving towards home realized i was feeling good and smiling. I looked at the other people on the road who had helped the same elderly man and noticed a smile at their faces as well. I looked at the other Taxi drivers who waited so patiently and waved, mouthing the words “thank you” as they passed. Every single person on road smiled back. Wow, Delhites smiling after being stuck in traffic for so long? Wonderful!  


 By ‘Meenakshi Bhog’