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Today you, tomorrow me (reddit.com)
1270 points by bjg on Dec 14, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 203 comments

Funny, as I read this post I thought, "Not hacker news." Then I read all the comments (42 as of this writing) and still thought, "Not hacker news."

Then I realized, "Perfect hacker news." Let me explain...

I try to approach my business just as the Mexicans in the story did. Not to make money, not to change the world, not to build cool stuff (well maybe just a little), but to genuinely help people. For a business person, this thinking is difficult and counter-intuitive.

Why do I do this? Because of my first mentor (and co-founder).

He was relentless in everything he did. I learned to stay up all night, keep calling on customers, and stay with tasks until we got somewhere with them. I remember many nights with thousands of invoices spread across the carpet, watching the graveyard shift run their machines, or scanning reports on-line, looking for clues. He wouldn't quit and the reason was always the same, "These people need help and we can help them. So we do. Don't worry about how hard it is or how much time we spend, it'll all work out in the end."

Sometimes I think that this is the attitude very successful people must have. It's too easy to give up when it's for ourselves, but much harder when we know that someone else needs us to get the thing done.

The Mexicans in the story reminded me of my mentor. A great lesson for anyone in business (or not). Thank you, OP.

I appreciate the sentiment, but "it'll all work out in the end" seems like a warning sign of wishful (poor) thinking.

Who am I going to listen to, the man who taught me more than I ever could ever imagine (and is now retired and giving away his millions) or some stranger who thinks he knows better?

I often share thoughts like this in the OP's spirit of "pass it on" so that it may benefit someone else.

Take it or leave it. But doubting it, commenting on what it "seems", or downvoting it only makes you look like a fool.

[Sorry for the negative tone, but this is a perfect example of the one thing about hn that really bugs me: people talking when they should be listening.]

Of course you're free to listen to whomever you like; I wish you would take my comment more as an alternative viewpoint than as an insult. I do appreciate the sentiment of your story, that people should help others, but personally I think the attitude "it'll all work out in the end" ruins more lives than it saves.

"it'll all work out" is an effective tool to deal with irrational or counterproductive anxiety (irrational== fear of flying, fear of social settings, etc., counterproductive==survival situations, situations with no other reasonable extrication than through, i.e. you need to swim to safety, you're stuck in a cave, you have a huge presentation to do tomorrow). It's entirely a bad idea to use in lieu of rational decisionmaking (i.e. "Ill enter into this horrible business deal, itll all work out!").

If you have generally negligible amounts of anxiety in life, the attitude is probably useless. For those of us that have tons, the judicious usage of this attitude is definitely a lifesaver.

Who am I going to listen to, the man who taught me more than I ever could ever imagine (and is now retired and giving away his millions) or some stranger who thinks he knows better?

If he is stranger and you don't know him, how did you know that your mentor is wiser then? See, you have already made two mistakes: The first, by not accepting an alternative opinion; and second, by thinking that what you know (or you got from your mentor) is doomed to be the best.

We can't explore all possibilities because of our limited time, so people use simple heuristics to get by. Prior experience/information always trumps no experience/information.

Prior experience/information always trumps no experience/information.

In fact, it does not. Your sample of experience may not be representative. This is complicated by various cognitive biases, including confirmation bias as mentioned downthread.

UPDATE: Let me give an example relating to the original post.

Two people, persons A and B, see a hitchhiker on the side of the road. Person A knows nothing about hitchhikers. Person B has seen several sensational news stories about rapist|murderer hitchhikers. In this case, person A will have to rely on their more general knowledge/opinion of people, and will, in my opinion, be more likely to give the hitchhiker a fair chance.

Not in my mind.

Doing the right thing is a solid way to run your life.

It lets you sleep better at night and build solid relationships when you're awake.

And, strangely, it does work out in the end. It has for me, every time.

That's confirmation bias, you never hear from the people who try and fail. They go away to the gutter, a shitty sales job; silence.

I'm glad it worked out for you, but it's rarely ever "just worked out" for me. So, be happy, because you're very lucky!

It is possibly confirmation bias. But it is one I embrace: it lets me continue to dream, take risks and help people out. A little self-delusion is a small price to pay for all that.

And, yes, I am aware that I am very lucky.

> I am the founder of LuckyCal.

That made me smile :) That being said, I agree with your sentiment. And in the end, even if it doesn't work out, you never waste time by doing the right thing. I'd rather end up broke and do "the right thing" than to make money with a business I don't believe is making the world a better place. Moreover it seems doing the right thing is more likely to make you money which is kind of nice :)

It's not so much "it'll all work out in the end" as it is "work really hard until it works out in the end."

Seth Godin prescribes this behavior as well, and acts on it if his eBook distributions are any evidence. Giving things away for free in a genuine way is a great way to make money if you are clever about it. There is nothing wrong with mutually-assured improvement.

Ah, the just-world phenomenon. Some people call it a fallacy -- I for one am not so pessimistic.

Think of it as a self-organizing social p2p protocol. Do the right thing. If you feel it's ruining your life, you should probably go hang out with a different crowd.

A wonderful story that restores my faith in humanity, just a little bit (and reminds me why coming to HN may be worthwhile, despite the nasty bickering it devolves into at times -- it still remains a good filter for finding worthwhile reading material).

It is easy to be generous when life is easy, the true test of a person's heart lies in their actions during times of personal adversity.

It is easy to lose hope, more so during hardship, when it is needed most. This story is one of those faint glimmers that may help someone make one choice versus another and start a chain of paying it forward. So, yes, thanks for sharing it OP.

This is beautiful. Too often I see business as a purely soul-less set of transactions predicated on the exchange of money where both parties need each other, but keep each other at arm's length.

Great comment. I was quite amazed at how this got more than 1000 up votes until your comment. Thanks.

Thank you for this story. I shared your sentiment when I saw this story pop up on hn but I've been struggling to find the right mindset for marketing my next project.

Your mentor's philosophy is exactly what I needed to hear.

Agreed. Thought it was an inspiring story that exposes an admirable attitude.

If you live in the UK you will surely know Dave Gorman [1]. He did a TV show called American Unchained [2] where he attempted to get across America without using chain stores. In that series I saw an America that I recognise from the Americans I know and have worked with (I've never visited America). Americans are some of the most friendly, optimistic and outgoing people in the known universe. In the show he experienced many Americans going out of their way to help him, many for little or no financial gain and many lamented the decline of offline, small time, service with a smile, mom and pop America.

If I may be so bold as to offer some advice to Americans: Be careful not to lose this side of your culture, sure you've got the biggest army, the biggest economy and more burger stores than any country would ever need but what has been your real strength for the last 100 years has been your welcoming, trusting and honest nature.

good luck.

[1] - http://www.davegorman.com/ [2] - http://www.davegorman.com/projects_america_unchained.html

Americans are some of the most friendly, optimistic and outgoing people in the known universe.

I'm going to get downvoted to hell, but I have to say this: I agree completely.

The reason why Americans believe that they are hating elsewhere is people transferring their strong dislike of American politics ("let's invade/interfere (with) countries and call it freedom") onto the American _people_. It's an emotional and intellectual shortcut.

Not to be a jerk, but I'm genuinely curious. Why did you feel the need to preface your comment with "I'm going to get downvoted to hell"? I can't see a reason why this comment would get downvoted.

Edit: I see you've been downvoted. I wonder if it's BECAUSE of your preface, rather than IN SPITE of it.

Yes, "I'm going to get downvoted to hell" belongs on reddit, where people actually downvote people out of spite. I've not seen the same behavior here on HN (might just be that I haven't posted too much here). A better and more constructive preface would be "You are welcome to disagree with me here" or something like that, something that would be used in ordinary conversation.

I've seen that behavior here. But then, I have some beliefs that sorely challenge many HNers world views.

" I have some beliefs that sorely challenge many HNers world views."

Many people come to HN precisely for that.

True, but many also can't stand to have their ideas challenged.

I never, ever upvote anything that says "I'm going to get downvoted for saying this..." If you're expecting downvotes, who am I to disagree with you?

You're someone who immediately disregards the content of the post of a user who recognizes the possible controversy of a statement.

HN's downvoting system enables cowards to drown you out with impunity, without providing a rebuttal or alternative view. This is one area where Slashdot's system is so much better. (Note, one area. HN brings things to the table that Slashdot doesn't. So no, I'm not just "going to go to slashdot and leave HN" like some people just thought about saying).

When I upvoted him, he was in the negatives. So maybe it was necessary.

I sort of agree, but a lot of us really are douchebags.

Could it be that the optimism mentioned by dazzawazza and nodata is admired when it is directed inward but not when directed externally? Nobody likes it when an ignorant person tries to solve all of their problems and it just so happens that the USA has a ton of optimism and wealth.

Thank you, and may all fellow Americans take this advice to heart. When it all comes down to it, the greatness of any nation is only the sum total of the greatness of its citizens. If we lose that, we lose what's great about America.

> If we lose that, we lose what's great about America.

How can you not only prevent this loss but also export this into other countries? How can we spark this in other cultures? How can we get rid of "negative greatness"?

Do the people who help out dave, know that they are being filmed?

They do, he frequently tells them he is making a documentary about small town America etc. So, yes, you probably should take some of it with a pinch of salt. The documentary is, after all, entertainment.

My personal experience of Americans does back up his experience though.

I checked for this DVD on Netflix but couldn't find it. Does anyone know if there's a way to see it other than ordering this DVD from Amazon UK?

Try contacting him on twitter @DaveGorman. He's pretty friendly on twitter.

cough bt cough

Lets make a huge distinction between a people (The American People) and a political power structure (The USA).

Look at the Irish people (generally a decent lot) and the Irish State (mostly a basket case morally and financially).

People are great. I love people, including nearly all the American I have met. I have yet to meet a state I can respect.

On. The complete opposite end of the spectrum check out Top Gear's show where they visited the American South. Obviously it was meant to provoke but it does bring up a few good points. I'd link you but I'm on my phone.

Yea, and I also learned how to become a doctor by watching House and ER, fish for Alaskan crab by watching Deadliest Catch, and learned all about how to have relationships by closely studying Friends and Entourage!

So no, that episode of Top Gear does not bring up any "good points" to draw legitimate conclusions about the American South. All it shows is that if you insult the average person enough, they'll get pissed off enough to deliver a few minutes of good footage. Meanwhile, back here in reality (not in TV land) -- if you visited down South you'd find that, given a broad sampling, Southerners are far kinder and warmer than us from New England. (p.s. I'm not from the South).

It gives me great concern that we as Americans assume so much truth from our 30 minute highlight reels.

Weird. I had a two friends get spat on their first day in the South, and it went downhill from there. They were an interracial couple. The local sheriff asked them when they planned on leaving, as if they were the problem. This was 2010, not 1950.

I'm sure the South is more welcoming for some people, but I wouldn't assume it to be the case for everybody. And I'm sure it depends on what areas of the south you go to (its still one of the most segregated areas in the US).

You ever been with someone with a strong southern accent in the north? I heard them called "hick" and "redneck" any number of times, and a black man said (direct quote) "I ain't helping no racist" when he was asked (politely) for directions.

Reminds me of the time I was visiting South Carolina from Montreal. I was in a gas station waiting to pay when I overheard two guys talking in the thickest southern accents imaginable. I couldn't hear what they were saying and I chuckled to myself at how much they sounded like dumb hicks.

It was only when they got closer did I hear that they were talking about nuclear physics.

It was a good reminder about judging books by covers, etc.

I was in a shop when I heard the lilting strains of a woman with an Irish accent at the next table over.

Being quite partial to an Irish accent, I decided to eavesdrop and sate my desire.

The first words I heard her say once I 'tuned in' - and I swear this is true - were "potato potato potato". I had to leave the shop quite quickly for fear of losing my composure :)

On a thread about how Americans are good and kind people, you attempt to justify the behaviour of the Southerners but only show that there are rotten Northerners as well.

In any case, these negative comments are a bit irrelevant, because it only takes one person who's willing to spit on you to say "we got spat on there, so people are rotten", but the vast majority has to be kind to you for you to say "we were treated well there, people are kind".

I went to San Francisco and saw many helpful people, I saw a few people who didn't care either way (the bus drivers didn't bother to reply to my "thank you"s or "hello"s) and a guy on the bus shoved me and shouted because he judged that I wasn't giving him enough space.

On average, people have been much nicer to me in London, but I wouldn't say people in SF suck because of that one guy on the bus. There were kind people there as well.

You ever been with someone with a strong southern accent in the north?

Not sure if DC is considered the North or not, but I had some friends from Florida visit me in DC. No one called them "hick" or "redneck", but honestly their accent was so strong that I don't think it would be identified as southern. Sometimes I literally couldn't understand what they were saying. But they also dressed about as sharp as anyone I know... that probably fights some of the stereotypes.

But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the North is the most welcoming place in the US either. I simply think your perception of the hospitality of a region is not something uniformly agreed upon.

For example, I'd find a Confederate flag or Swastika offensive, and not welcoming. Whereas I'm sure others would rationalize the postive aspects of their respective histories and not find them offensive in the least.

One of the best experiences I've ever had was dressing up as a Confederate general with very prominent Dixie flags for Halloween in NYC.

I spent the day walking around Manhattan. People (mostly white middle-aged women) went out of their way to tell me how offended they were. I told them to "think of the heritage." I'm not American (well, I sort of am, long story), so to me it was both instructive and hilarious.

What was really interesting in hindsight is that none of the Brooklyn hipster transplants at the parties I went to that night thought anything about it.

I am consistently amazed at how many people think that episode is a genuine unscripted documentary.

A lot of that show is scripted, and they intentionally provoked people to get a reaction for the sake of interesting TV.

As an American born and raised in the south, that was provoking the worst of the worst of the worst.

It was an entertaining episode, but I can guarantee you can get that reaction in pretty much any country if you try hard enough (in many countries you'll likely end up in a far worse situation).

I am from Europe as well and I can wholeheartedly agree with this.

I know it has become so popular to be laughing about the States over here but let me tell you something... each and every time I had to deal with people from the States over here, they were nothing but friendly and down to earth, good hearted people who enjoy and appreciate company and small talk - even more so than lots of Germans who often give you the feeling they are just waiting for you to rip them off or wave some sales contract into their face next - just because you said "hi" and "how you doing?".

You can be friendly to people in Germany, but most people are rather more introverted than in America. So the common case of somebody being overly outgoing is the salesman. That tends to colour impressions.

If you're meeting Americans abroad, you're generally meeting a special self-selected type of more open-minded American. I tend to find Germans I meet here at home much more enlightened than the majority of Americans I deal with.

I spent three months crossing the US and what struck me is how outgoing the Americans are. Back home (Australia) if you're standing at a bus stop, no-one will talk to a stranger unless it's a sardonic comment about how late the bus is. In the US, total strangers just started talking to me apropos of nothing, just to talk and pass the time. I think that this is my favourite aspect of the American character.

The stereotype of the American who just wants to hear their own voice didn't hold up either - almost all of them were genuinely interested in conversation, though that may have been partly coloured because I was a foreign tourist a little off the beaten track.

For some reason, half way through this great story I suddenly found myself contrasting it with that less great story that did the rounds last July 4: the Sun-Times' Terry Savage's "There is no free lemonade" (original article expired probably with good reason, but here's a copy I found: http://bit.ly/eqIMNe) wherein author recounts her horror at finding a lemonade stand manned by two girls giving away their product for free. Despite attempts to instill an entrepreneurial spirit into the fledgling tycoons - on that day of all days - they still refuse to charge for it, whereupon she drives away disgusted and thirsty.

Is $15 for a gas can unreasonable when there is quite clearly a market? In theory a $20 labour and parts charge handed to the poor Mexican family should make both parties happy and the economy stronger (barring somewhat awkward questions of tax, right to work etc). In practice the removal of money from a human transaction created an intangible wealth, a bonding of strangers and a transfer of values that has travelled far beyond that stretch of tarmac.

Thank you for intimating that wealth should be measured in more than currency. Too often discussions of the economy focus only on measures like GDP, roughly, how much money is flying around. Clearly, measuring our wealth and the health of the economy involves much more than this.

What terrifies me is that, where capitilism has all but become the religion, people act like being selfish is somehow doing the right thing.

We should remember that the core measurement of economics is utility, not money. Money's just an easy way to measure utility for most means, but not by any means complete.

Best thing about "No Free Lemonade" is that she yelled from the backseat of the car to the kids about fiscal responsibility. She was being fucking chauffeured.

I wouldn't call it"chauffeured" when it's her brother driving and her sister-in-law in the front seat.

She made no mention of chipping in for gas or the up-keep of the vehicle. Sounds like she enjoys the pleasures of a "free ride" as much as the kids enjoyed handing them out.

Sorry i completely misread your post, old content deleted.

One of the first times I stopped to help what appeared to be a person with a flat, I got a good long (loud) lecture about how just because she was a woman, she wasn't helpless... how men should just ... if we'd all just... call the police if I don't ...

Honestly, I couldn't tell by sight at 5 feet is she was male or female. To say this response caught me by surprise is an understatement. Over the long haul, this experience did not deter me from stopping to help, I'm just a little more careful not to go bounding up like an over-excited Labrador puppy with my offers of assistance.

This is probably good advice from a security standpoint as well. Stop to help, but be situationally aware.

I am European as well, and although I completely agree that American people are the best part of the American experience (INS officials being an exceptions, because they are not humans, of course), there was this one exception the first week I came first time in my life to Boston. I was rushing to the revolving door and I saw a lady obviously some kind of professional who was rushing to the same doors. I have opened the door and hold it for her. I couldn't believe when I was slapped on my face and told she didn't need a help from a sexist pig. Fortunately, I have not gave up on being courteous and I have never repeated this experience, but this was surely weird situation.

Greetings over the Pond!

You should have filed assault charges on the bitch. She doesn't need help from a sexist pig, yet she slaps you across the face because it's okay for a woman to slap a man.

"In my country, we're polite, bitch."

I live in the Southern U.S. (Atlanta) and what I love the most about this place is how courteous people are. If I was walking towards a door and someone was there first, it would be uncommon for them not to hold it open, genders notwithstanding.

I am sorry you had this experience. There are always some people who take positive ideas to the other extreme and become exactly like the people they despise.

She was more than likely:

1. Pissed at her flat. 2. Terrified that some guy stopped to "help" her.

Then again, she could just be a bitch. They do exist.

I wouldn't alter your behaviour though because of this type of reaction. Life is too short to suffer fools.

She didn't want your help. It's OK. The correct response is to quietly apologize as soon as she starts lecturing, and then immediately walk away.

Why did you feel obligated to stay for the entire lecture?

EDIT: I'm very interested to know why the downvotes are happening.

Probably because she was the sexist pig. People who assault you, physically or verbally, dont need an apology. I think it's pretty rude to let the door slam in someone's face.

That makes sense. I tend to roll out the "Sorry about that" in situations like that because apology can be used to signal more than just sorrow or guilt--it is also a widely accepted method of disconnecting from a conversation. Just because someone surrenders doesn't mean they agree with you.

Really, though; the apology isn't the gist of what I was trying to say. The gist is that the parent poster was in no way obligated to stand and take that lady's entire retarded rant.

The original Spanish expression is "Hoy por ti, mañana por mi", and I find the Golden Rule to be the closest direct application of the concept in a single expression. Interestingly, the three suggested translations of the expression I found were: "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours", "What goes around, comes around", and "Tit for tat" (http://www.proz.com/kudoz/spanish_to_english/idioms_maxims_s...). However, none of those seem to accurately convey the sentiment/ideal expressed in the original phrase.

There's a similar phrase that doesn't occur in your set of translations but accurately conveys the meaning: "Pay it forward".

[Pay it forward] was rediscovered and described by Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 22, 1784:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress.

Not really. All those phrases imply that the recipient should take action (except for "what goes around comes around"). "Today you, tomorrow me" means "Today I helped you, tomorrow I might need your help, so you don't need to repay me", but not exactly in a "what goes around comes around" way (it doesn't imply certainty or karma).

Basically, the equivalent is probably "it could have been me in your place", I guess.

Yep, except the "scratch" one has a slightly negative connotation of doing something just because the other one will do something in return. The Spanish phrase is a bit more positive.

Actually, the best part about the "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is that it refers to whipping. It's an expression that comes from ship life, where shipmates would be tasked with whipping each other when they misbehaved. The idea was that if you whip me more softly (scratch my back), then when it's my turn to whip you I'll do the same.


I notice this explanation seems to be commonly favoured by google, but it is unlikely.

Floggings in the Royal Navy were done by the bosun's mate, not a random crew member. The bosun and the lieutenants would watch carefully for favouritism. There was no rancour directed towards the mate because everyone knew he was just doing his job.

This (below) attributes the phrase to Montaign:


Didn't know that, thanks!

I agree, since there is no implication in the Spanish phrase of "what can you offer in return?". The Golden Rule seems to mesh better with the original ideal expressed. I always find it interesting when literal translation, or convenience in closeness of expressions, are preferred over intended meaning.

"You today ... me tomorrow" is my new favorite "Golden Rule" translation :)

It's really more a translation of karma.

At any rate, I vastly prefer it to the "Golden Rule." Whenever anyone goes on about it, I always say, "what about masochists?" It may sound a trite response, but I think it's a really important aspect of a moral system that people are different, and you should think about what they want, not what you would want in that situation.

The golden rule is not about what you want, it is about something you could will as a universal maxim. So you must take the masochists etc into consideration when universalizing.

It's not really a translation of karma, nor is it a translation of the Golden Rule. It does mean "I do this in the hopes that you would do it for me if I were in your place", but not in a "$deity will reward you if you do this". Basically, it's the spirit, rather than the letter, of the Golden Rule.

Why would you need a translation?

Maybe I should have said rephrasing instead of translation...

Did you accomplish what you set out to do with your comment?

Seriously? What the fuck. His comment wasn't clear.

Was his comment to distance the Golden Rule from Christianity? I'm having a hard time interpreting it otherwise, but that's an ignorant effort, as the "do unto others" concept predates Jesus of Nazareth by 1,000+ years.

I'm still not clear on what the point of his comment was; all I did was ask for clarification, with NO commentary at all. Can you clarify his initial intent? If so, please do.

Also, I know you might not have been one of the folks to give me downvotes, so I'll address whoever that was separately: Don't just downvote a comment on HN without explaining your beef. This isn't Reddit.

Sorry for all the confusion! I'm actually a Christian, and wasn't meaning it as something to distance the Golden Rule from Christianity. I was simply meaning that I think the phrase I mentioned, which the original article quoted, is a great way to rephrase the Golden Rule. Just like we now say "24/7" instead of "all the time" or other similar phrases, this phrase can be used to sum up the Golden Rule (or other similar ideas) in a memorable way.

Hope that clears things up! I definitely wasn't trying to start a controversy. Hope you have a Merry Christmas season :)

You are being downvoted because the parent comment expressed a personal belief -- that he enjoyed a particular way of expressing the concept of "Golden Rule" (from a Spanish saying) -- and you are apparently questioning his need or personal preference for any other way of expressing this fundamental human concept at all.

It really provided little to negative value to the conversation, and your profanity-laden response doesn't help your case.

> Don't just downvote a comment on HN without explaining your beef. This isn't Reddit.

We try not to do that on reddit either. We also try to refrain from "this isn't Digg".

Golden Rule from Christianity

The Golden Rule comes from Hillel who was a Rabbi.


I'm really not sure why charliepark got all those downvotes either; I don't see anything wrong with his comment -- as far as I can see he's pointing out that the traditional formulation of the "Golden Rule" is a pretty good one.

I've been reading a great book called "The Gift" by Lewis Hyde about just this difference in feeling. Like you seemed to intuit, giving is very different from trading.

Beautiful OP as well.

The beauty of it is that it's always "today".

Last time I picked up a hitchhiker I was driving across the buttes of Platte County, Wyoming. I noticed a middle aged guy standing outside of his conversion van with what looked like an empty plastic gas can in his hand. But what made me stop was the NY tags (I'm from the northeast US). In that part of Wyoming, if you see a gas station anywhere you'd better stop and fill up if you're at half a tank or less.

Sure enough, I stop to take him to where I knew the nearest station was, and in perfect Brooklynese he says, "Am I evah glad to see you!"

When I was a teenager I worked at a local ski area parking cars. Every weekend I drove my '92 Blazer to the ski hill at 5am, clocked in, parked cars in the freezing cold, then drove a shuttle bus until the afternoon shift came on. I also worked on Christmas and New Year's Day since those tend to be big ski days.

One Christmas, I got off work around 2pm. I was driving home to open presents, have dinner, etc. when I came across a delivery van on the side of the road, hopelessly spinning its wheels in about 2 feet of heavy snow. It looked as if they had pulled over to get out of the way or check their map and gotten stuck.

I turned around and pulled up across the highway from them. "Need some help?" I shouted. The dirty, scruffy driver who was digging at the wheels with his foot glared at me, "No dammit! We're fine."

I got back in my car and sat and watched for a minute. He jumped in the van and took some anger out on the gas pedal, digging himself even deeper in. I calmly turned around, backed my car up to about 15 feet in front of his van, stepped out, and stood there with a tow-strap in my hand watching him.

Finally, he got out, gruffly accepted the other end of the strap from me, and hooked it up to his van. I got in my Blazer, set it to 4-Lo and pulled him out of the snow and onto the pavement in about 2 seconds flat.

"Thanks," he said. "No problem. Merry Christmas." I said as I rolled the snatch strap back up. Then he reached into his pocket, "Here. Take this.

"No way," I said. "It's Christmas. Get home safe."

"Absolutely not! It's wear and tear on your vehicle." he growled. Figuring I had probably hurt this guy's pride enough already, I just took what was in his hand, wished him a Merry Christmas again, and got back in my car. I threw the money on the seat next to me: three one-dollar bills.

I smiled and laughed all the way home. I made sure to drop those three dollar bills into the next donation box I saw.

We need more people like you.

I always stop to help someone, partially because I know I've sure needed it myself a few times.

Even simple things can make a person's day. I saw a guy pushing a low cc 1970's Honda motorcycle down the sidewalk in Cambridge a few months ago. I pulled over immediately and ran up to him- it looked like he was having a bad day. He said it wouldn't start after he stalled it. I'd been riding and repairing vintage Honda's myself for about a year at that point, so I was hopeful. Turns out it was just that his battery was dead and he didn't know how to use the kickstarter as he'd just started riding it. A few quick kicks and he was ready to go and now knew how to start his bike without a good battery.

When I have a non-motorcycle I try to always keep a fairly large set of tools in the trunk and anything else I could think to use. My pickup was stocked like a fallout/survival shelter. My motorcycles obviously carry less, but I always try to keep a first aid kit and a blowout kit to get someone to safety.

Hitchhiking is unfortunately one of those things that has been completely ruined by a few bad apples. It only takes 0.00001% of the hitchhikers being serial killers or rapists to sour everyone against picking up hitchikers. So few people hitchike because it is a hassle, and now it increases the likelyhood that the person hitchiking is a derelict, a postive feedback loop of national proportions.

And as for slighly offtopic comment: have you noticed how hard it is to get various road side assistance companies to actually do something useful?

Few weeks ago slightly aged tire on my not so slightly aged car not only went flat but essentially disappeared on highway (in ~150 kph). As my car was recently broken into I did't have a spare (you are not required to carry spare in Czech Republic, but you are legally required to have some way of fixing broken tires, be it spare, quick-fix-kit or road side assistance subscription). So I correctly assumed that quick-fix kit is of no use when you don't have an actual tire to fix and tried to call road side assistance company which I subscribe to that even offers help with tire replacement. They told me that they cannot do anything else than tow my car somewhere (for like an 2 EUR per km, times two, which was out of question assuming I was like 400km from home) and fix the tire in 2 business days, so I canceled my subscription and went to get spare tire by some other means. In the end my girlfriend called her parents who got me spare tire by some networking and fast talking means in like half an hour, you simply got to like rural areas and people who are always ready to help.

I've seen a few good stories. A friend's old (ok, antique) Jaguar broke down in the middle of a Jag rally up the country. He called the AA, and the guy they sent out was a collector and fellow specialist, who re-wired the loom then and there, at the side of the road. It wasn't a great fix obviously (he couldn't get into top gear, or something like that), but it meant he could keep going with the rally and get it done properly later. Absolutely amazing.

Best experience I've had was in Turkey. Broke down on a Sunday evening, tow truck saw us at the side of the road and gave us a lift to a garage. An official Toyota garage. Shit. The manager of the garage comes out, calls the chief engineer, so now we have four people's time on a Sunday evening to pay for. Turns out we need a new, Toyota-specific part, or we can't drive away, and they have it. At this point they can just name a price, we do not have a choice. It was 100 USD, all-in, parts, labour, and the tow. That price that would be reasonable on a weekday! They must have known that they could charge however much they liked, and they didn't. Much appreciated.

I remember when we were in Mongolia, an axis of our minibus broke. At three in the morning. Our local guides drove around in the second car, and managed to acquire one in an hour or so; the third guy they asked had an axis to spare. The first two guys had some pointers for finding the third guy in the first place.

And Mongolia has almost no population density.

That's just how it works out there, their ability to fix anything astounded me. We had a new exhaust bracket made by our chef, using an old tire, his kitchen knife, and the poker out of the fire!

You can't generalise from that, at least not internationally. I'm a member of the ÖAMTC (one of the road-side assistance non-profits in Austria) and I've had universally good experiences with them. They're very quick to arrive and know exactly what they're doing, and always friendly. And I've called them out for pretty minor things - I suck at fixing cars myself.

Interestingly, Richard Feynman tells a similar story. I think it's in "Why do you care what other people think?" It also is depicted in Matthew Broderick's movie "Infinity."

He was working at Los Alamos on the bomb, and his wife was dying in hospital. He had to make long drives back and forth to visit his wife. He picks up a hitchhiker, a Mexican who speaks no English. IIRC, he rambles on and tells the Mexican about his wife and how she's sick, but the Mexican can't understand him. The crux of the story is when they break down. They aren't in danger of dying in the desert, they get to a gas station, where the Mexican suddenly speaks perfect English and explains how to fix the car so that Feynman can make it to see his wife in time.

Feynman deduces that the Mexican pretending to speak no English is actually a spy, and asks him why he broke his cover. The Mexican answers that he was moved by Richard's plight.

My wife, Arlene, was ill with tuberculosis--very ill indeed. It looked as if something might happen at any minute, so I arranged ahead of time with a friend of mine in the dormitory to borrow his car in an emergency so I could get to Albuquerque quickly. His name was Klaus Fuchs. He was the spy, and he used his automobile to take the atomic secrets away from Los Alamos down to Santa Fe. But nobody knew that.

The emergency arrived. I borrowed Fuchs's car and picked up a couple of hitchhikers, in case something happened with the car on the way to Albuquerque. Sure enough, just as we were driving into Santa Fe, we got a flat tire. The two guys helped me change the tire, and just as we were leaving Santa Fe, another tire went flat. We pushed the car into a nearby gas station.

The gas station guy was repairing somebody else's car, and it was going to take a while before he could help us. I didn't even think to say anything, but the two hitchhikers went over to the gas station man and told him the situation. Soon we had a new tire (but no spare--tires were hard to get during the war). About thirty miles outside Albuquerque a third tire went flat, so I left the car on the road and we hitchhiked the rest of the way. I phoned a garage to go out and get the car while I went to the hospital to see my wife.

Arlene died a few hours after I got there.

Man, that's not even close to how I remembered the story. I need to watch Infinity again, maybe that version took liberties with the original by merging the hitchhikers with Fuchs, and that's what I remembered...

I like your version better.

I'm going to watch "Infinity" again over the holidays. If that's the version, the credit goes to Matthew Broderick's mom. She wrote the script.

Earlier this year, I lived in Guatemala studying Spanish, climbing volcanos and motorcycling around. At one point a friend of mine visited me from Mexico for a couple weeks and we decided we'd rent a car and drive around the country. It's much safer than the busses, and way more freedom.

We were going between villages in the mountains that were -- to say the least -- rural. Most of them probably had thirty or forty people living in them and the only access was a single-lane dirt road barely passable by even four-wheel drive vehicles. The workers in the villages rely on hitchhiking or private "taxis" to get to work. Those with trucks generally pick up anyone on the side of the road who's going in the same direction and flags them down.

Having been the hiker myself on some similar Guatemalan roads previously, I discovered that it's customary to ask the driver how much you owed them for the trip at the end and then pay them (depending on the length of the trip) maybe 5 or 10 quetzales -- I think at the time that was about $1.00 - $1.20 USD or so.

My friend and I got in the habit of picking up everyone we saw and dropping them off at their location; por gratis. Most of them didn't speak Spanish (this was rural enough that nearly everyone spoke some mayan dialect) so it was always a bit of a silly experiment trying to explain that I didn't them to pay.

I like to think that maybe we made a couple people's days and they were able to put a little more food on their table (or heck, beer in their belly).

More generally, I make a point to pick up hitchhikers when I have time -- which sadly is less and less frequent these days. Even if it's a risky proposal, I've been on the other side of the equation one too many times in my life not to try and return the favor.

That story reminded me of my life a while back. Hope you guys don't mind me sharing.

I was in a peculiar situation with regard of my H1-B (this is long time ago) visa. I was not legal to work, but I was legal to stay. I was in this situation for more than a year.

I lost everything, literally. I ran out of savings. No programming shops would take me, not even Chinese restaurants would take me.

Guess who gave me a job? I worked for this mom-and-pop car shop run by Mexican family. I changed air filters, brake pads, electronic window motors until my visa resolved itself. They paid $1 above minimum wage, they feed me lunch (their home-made salsa was delicious) and in return I maintained their Windows PC.

When my visa resolved, the dad just bought a new warehouse as part of expanding his business. It was a great year for both of us.

Perhaps my favorite good act to do is to help people push their car when they need it. It's dumb, really, but having grown up in the south, people are just hospitable that way.

It generally doesn't take much to do, it helps traffic, and at least for me, it makes me feel good about myself. Besides, it always irks me when I see someone trying to push their car out of traffic and nobody else is helping. Especially considering the traffic implications around here, when somebody in the road makes an already bad situation worse.

I've been late because of it, but to date, I've never had anybody hold it against me that I was late because I helped somebody move a car.

Yeah, here in Saskatchewan, or in most parts of Canada, if you're stuck in the snow, people will jump to help. We all know how crappy it is to be stuck when it's really cold out. Not everyone shovels each other's sidewalks though. Depends on the neighbourhood for that.

Once, my car died near an intersection; as I jumped out to push, two guys appeared out of nowhere alongside me to help push. It took about 15 seconds, and they waved off my thanks and were gone again. It was shocking how unexpectedly helpful they were... I tend to expect no help in a situation like that.

Exactly. It's one of those things that is generally interpreted as generous. Being nice to people can often back fire; Complimenting the barista on her earrings might be seen as a come-on. Applauding someone's work ethic is often seen as sarcasm. It's not something to worry about, generally, but I've withheld a generous comment before based on how it might have been perceived.

Helping somebody push a car (so long as you don't ask for payment after, or something) is hard to misinterpret, and has to completely make the recipient's day.

I've pushed other folks' cars out of traffic or into a station before, and there's nothing like that sheepish smile you get as you wave them off and get on your way.

On the other hand, I've also had a borrowed, beaten-up car break down in peak hour in the inside lane and no-one is letting me push it over two more lanes to the plentiful parking on the side. I waited for about two minutes for someone to give me a gap before I realised "hey, car is beaten-up anyway, if it gets hit, it's just another scratch". Waited for a small gap and just started pushing. Not particularly suprising that people with their nice clean paintjobs don't want to plow into a beaten car just to prove a point :)

You can see this in action almost every day in New York City. On a crowded subway car, if a pregnant woman or very old person gets on the car it is almost always a Hispanic male who jumps up to offer their seat, even if it means standing up for the rest of a long commute.

As a middle aged person who grew up in Houston, I can remember having these basic values (golden rule/help other people) drilled into me by parents/teachers in the 70's.

Somewhere along the way urban life seems to have washed those values away.

In Malaysia, many cases where ppl stopped to help but end up having their cars and money robbed!

I don't see why you got downvoted: this just happens, too, and it doesn't make the reddit comment less touching. It's in fact quite related: people exploiting the natural willingness of other people to help, which in turns makes people less helpful with others.

It's a classic even in some occidental countries (either that, or requesting help on malls parking).

This doesn't mean I won't help someone - but I'm definitely careful when I do.

I've had a very similar experience, its uncanny. I was in my 20s at the time and I was trying to fix a charging problem on this old truck I had. I decided to take it for a test ride to see if the problem is fixed. Of course it isn't and the battery dies while I am in the middle of an intersection. I have jumper cables so I pop the hood and I am standing there holding the cables trying to get someone to stop. I got people flipping me off, honking their horns, etc, no one stops. A Mexican guy stops, family in the car, pops his hood and gives me a jump. I didn't get a chance to talk to him because I had to get the truck out of the road, but I did say thanks. Ever since that incident I have been paying it forward. I've probably helped dozens of people since then who were broke down because that guy chose to help me. It's nice to see there are others out there paying it forward as well.

I try to give rides to hitchhikers when it's especially dark and lonely and cold out. I ride a motorcycle, and people usually aren't interested in a ride with no helmet unless it's really dark, lonely and cold.

Used to help people on the side of the road a lot, but a childhood friend was hit by a truck & killed just recently while helping someone change a flat and I almost broke my ankle in the dark another night when I pulled over to help, and couldn't walk right for months. I haven't been pulling over as much since. :(

On a tangent, things like that ankle injury that really remind me how fragile we are. There was a while there I thought I had permanently injured it.

That's the problem in a lot of places. The highway I use most often is the 401 in the greater toronto area -- the busiest highway in north america. Stopping on the side of the road is extremely dangerous at the best of times, and walking along it, even worse.

However, I have called 911 on occasion. It always amazes me how few people call in collisions and accidents. On a recent road trip to the US, I was travelling North from Indianapolis to Chicago, when I see a huge cloud of dust appear ahead of me. As I drive towards it, there's a car flipped upside down in the center ditch. 4-5 cars had already stopped, but I stopped as well, as fast as I could, and called 911.

I was the first that called, out of nearly 10 people on scene.

Please, people, don't assume someone else has called 911, ever.

People in groups tend to look at each other for signals instead of acting; this is explained in "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Cialdini.

For people wanting a link, this is called the bystander effect:


When I did first aid, CPR, and disaster training, this was drilled in to me:

Never say "somebody call 911". Either call yourself, or pick a specific person and say "you, call 911" and make sure they acknowledge you. Because if you just say "somebody", everyone will assume you meant somebody other than them.

It is pretty dangerous helping out with flats. I know a girl that was struck by a truck in the head, and she was thrown 8-10 yards down the road by the impact. Miraculously, she's pretty okay.

This story is touching. If you want to do something worthwhile today, take a second and call your Senator and tell them to support the dream act. It's a big issue for all immigrants, not just Mexicans.

The vote is most likely this week and every call counts.


To tie it back to Hacker News, you'll also be using my company's technology to complete the call.

I don't believe the federal government should be bribing illegal immigrants in order to increase its size and scope. We don't need a bigger military.

When I was a teenager in the 70's I used to hitchhike around town whenever I got tired of waiting for the bus. Hard to imagine today. Invariably the guys (never a woman) who would pick me up had been in military service, and had to hitch a ride into town whenever they got base leave. Sympathy requires understanding, a little wealth can breed ignorance.

I still hitch hike when travelling, and a few of my friends do as well. It can be sometimes difficult to catch rides, so it's best done if you're not in a rush. The people you meet, however, are usually stellar. I got picked up by a grandmother, her daugher, and grand-daughter-- who were a fantastically sweet trio. They gave me apples when they dropped me off! Vietnam vets have also been common, as well as Mexican workers. An Indian programmer once drove me 100 miles out of his way (I think he was lonely for conversation, which I was happy to provide).

Hitch hiking has transformed my view of America/Americans and made me really enthusiastic about my country.

Back when I was an intern at IBM in upstate NY, I often drove between Boston and NY late at night. There was no cars in sight in the early hours of the night for certain parts of hwy 84 and 684. No cell phones back then either.

I periodically saw people whose cars had broken down on the side of the road, and stopped each and every time to offer help. One time, I drove a woman and her young son to a nearby gas station to make phone calls. Another time, I drove another couple to a nearby town.

It turned out that for one such time, I happened to help the daughter of a researcher who also worked in the same IBM research lab I was working at. The next morning, the father looked me up and took me out to coffee to thank me. That was sweet.

Nowadays, I no longer have to drive late at night, but I still look for the opportunity to help. It has always brought me peace to know that I can get someone out of a jam when needed.

If you live in IA, MN, ND etc. (I'm sure other places, but these are the places I've lived), this story won't seem very out of the ordinary.

Once when I was in college, I flew to Arizona for Thanksgiving, then back to ND on a Monday to go to class. When I got back, it was one of the worst snowstorms of the year. It was horrible. The school was closed, the roads had been closed that night, snow seemed to just be materializing out of nowhere; it was the type of storm you only experience when you live in the frozen, frozen north.

Well I hadn't slept more than about an hour on the plane, and driving down a 4 lane sheet of ice with no sleep in a two wheel drive little sporty coupe when the visibility is measured in numbers of feet that are less than 100 is a nearly suicidal idea, so I pulled off to the side of the road.

I pulled up the offramp, then back about 50 feet down on-ramp so that the trucks getting on the freeway wouldn't kill me. I [very, very stupidly] left the car idling for the heater, set my phone for a 15 minute nap, and went to sleep.

Halfway through my nap, I hear BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM on the window, which did more to wake me up than the nap ever could have. It was a girl, probably 17, who had seen me stopped on the side of the road, and wanted to make sure I was okay. A high school aged girl that got out of her car in the freezing freezing cold during a horrible snowstorm to run up to some completely random car on the side of the freeway and make sure that the driver didn't need a ride.

I've lived in Phoenix for about 5 years now. This sort of thing would never, ever happen here. In fact, Phoenix has had the opportunity [on several occasions] to prove me wrong about this, and has failed every single time. One summer, our family had a boat, and we were out having fun on Lake Pleasant. At what was probably the worst possible time, which was when we were near 100s of other boats, the fuel pump gave up on us. Not only did this mean that we were going to be floating towards the other boats (and the rocks, this lake is made of all rock), it meant that we didn't have any cell service (this area of the lake is in a cliff). Our boat, obviously disabled, was floating towards the other boats. Somebody is waving the orange flag we have around to let them know we're in trouble, my sisters and I are all in the water with ski ropes trying to pull the thing to safety and...nobody is helping. People are looking at us like "What the hell are you doing get out of OUR WAY!"


We eventually got the motor running (limping, really) and made it out of the cove and into the main lake-almost-when the fuel pump died again. This time, we were in a narrow passage between a couple of rock outcroppings. Maybe 50-75 meters wide. Again, orange flag us up, sisters and I are in the water trying to keep the boat from hitting the rocks and...people are flying past us in the cigarette boats giving us the finger because we're in their way.


I like this, "Today you...tomorrow me". A lot. There was a time when some completely lost kids on their way to a music festival walked past my house as I was unloading some lumber from the jeep. "HEY! Do you know where Kiwanis Park is!?"

"Yeah, about 4 miles south of here."

"What, seriously?"

"Yeah, seriously, are you guys going to earth-dance?"


"Well come over here and help me unload the rest of this wood and I'll give you a ride."

There was another time when somebody came up to me to ask if I knew the bus schedule...

"Why? Where are you going?"

"Oh, well...North Phoenix." (about a 40 minute drive from where we were)

"Huh, well I'll make you a deal. If you promise to do something nice for somebody tomorrow, I'll give you a ride there. Get in."

The latest trend seems to be "rejection therapy". If this helps people, good, but I hate this. Can we instead please make the next trend "Make somebody's day every day for 30 days therapy"?

I grew up in Iowa and then moved the bay area after college, and the lack of empathy and community spirit really struck me. When I was in high school and there was a snow day, my friends and I would drive around with shovels looking for people who were stuck so we could push them out. Sure, there wasn't much else to do in Iowa :) but it was fun, and helped people.

I went to Tahoe a few years ago with my brother and some friends, and the friends were shocked when us Iowans made them pull over so we could get a car out.

Some things just have to be different though. As a kid I remember asking people for a quarter because I needed to use a payphone. But requests for spare change in the Haight just aren't reasonable to process. Once I tried to ask passersby on Valencia if I could quickly use their cell phone though, and after asking about 50 people just gave up.

On the other hand, I've gotten into road biking out here, and every single time I've gotten a flat the next biker along has stopped to see if they can help.

This sums up why I've had so much culture shock moving from the UK to Phoenix. People don't get it when I say that selfishness is what really hurts me here, not the heat or any of the other factors.

That said, it's all of our fault. Every day, in this place, I feel myself getting a little more like everyone else here. Thanks for reminding me that I need to do better.

There are good people in Phoenix, it's just that the jerks are yelling so so loudly that sometimes it can be hard to hear them.

Out of curiosity, do you go to gangplank? Heatsync?

Yes, there are, and I've found a bunch of them. I used to go to gangplank alot, but now I only get there about once or twice a month since I went from self-employment to normal employment.

I've not been involved in Heatsync other than to see some of the cool things they do. I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of the founding people on the day they came into Gangplank 2 to start their collaboration, though.

I think it's a matter of environment. Harsh, deadly environments build communities, because without one, you'd probably die. However, if you're living someplace that doesn't regularly try to kill you, you can be much more self-reliant, and expect that from others as well.

I sure feels like summers in Phoenix are trying to kill you.

Yeah, a few minutes research and I can't say I really agree with your hypothesis. According to the CDC, 1999-2003 there were 3,442 deaths due to excessive heat with Arizona having 1.7 deaths per 100,000 people.


So yes, Phoenix is trying to kill you, too. So there must be some other difference that causes social friendliness.

I think a lot of it has to do with roots. Phoenix is incredibly transient. 1.5 years ago, lots and lots of people had houses in my neighborhood, slept there, ate their food there, sent their kids to school there, etc. but nobody really considered it "home"; nobody really thought they lived there.

A lot of them were transplants from California, out in Phoenix because it was cheaper

"yeah, couple more years and I'll be back on the coast..."

When I lived in Minnesota, people were home. This was their town, so if they saw a member of their community stranded on the side of the road, they'd stop to help them because they recognized them as a member. Consider how helpful we've all seen members of HN be to one another. I think a lot of it is because everybody sortof feels like they're in the same club. We want to see HNers doing well because that means it's one of us doing well.

Out in Phoenix, nobody really even considers themselves a member of the club, they're all just visiting.

For me, in the last year, things have changed dramatically. There really are neighborhoods in Phoenix that people live in, as opposed to just sleeping in, luckily I've found one. The house I live in now is much, much crappier and older and smellier and, honestly, it's completely falling apart, but I'd take it 1000x over the purgatory I used to live in.

I find your comment interesting, but I'd like to underline something : one beauty of the "Today you, tomorrow me" story is that it was a family of mexican fruit-pickers helping an american man. Not the same club. Not the same community. Helping anyway. That is simpler, better, and very noble. Superior hearts (if I may say, in the sense that they are good examples to follow in order to improve ourselves)

>The latest trend seems to be "rejection therapy". If this helps people, good, but I hate this. Can we instead please make the next trend "Make somebody's day every day for 30 days therapy"?

Sounds like this 17 year old girl summoned up some courage to help you, instead of minding her own business like so many people do. She might have felt she was taking a chance with her safety to help you, or at the very least be spurned by you. Imagination can be an awful thing sometimes.

I've played Rejection Therapy for awhile now, and it's given me the courage to reach out to estranged family members, to give up my seat on the bus to women, to ask a stranger with a cast if I could walk her dog.

I am a good person, with good intentions, but I am extremely shy by nature and it has handicapped my personality. I've lived alone for many years because of my extreme awkwardness around women. Now I try to reach out to others, even women, despite my fear. I'm now aware that my comfort zone is a cage. And I want out.

Rejection Therapy gives people hope. It permits people to fail, and win, at the same time. That's a trend I want to continue.

> The latest trend seems to be "rejection therapy". If this helps people, good, but I hate this. Can we instead please make the next trend "Make somebody's day every day for 30 days therapy"?

Actually, there are some people trying to do something called "make a difference Monday" around here (here being Phoenix, ironically). It amounts to helping out one random person in some way just because. Every Monday is "make a difference Monday."

The ulterior motive of "rejection therapy" doesn't really vibe well with me.

Having read the story and read a lot of the posts and discussion in this thread, a few thoughts come to mind:

1) I once had a flat tire that a homeless person offered to change. Yes, he was hoping to make a few bucks. I was still very ill at the time and desperately needed to get something to eat. Having him change it meant it got done faster than if I had tried to call someone, which mattered because every minute counts when my blood sugar is low. We talked while he worked and I found out he had been staying in a cheap dive of a hotel and was trying to come up with enough to sleep there that night instead of the streets. I gave him $60. I later found out it would have cost less to call someone. I didn't care. It was worth it to me to get to an eatery a few minutes faster. My blood sugar was low and I was really in crisis. I had a "middle class" lifestyle but in some sense was in no less need than the homeless man.

2) I think the whole generosity thing is typical of successful business people because creating something of value is what makes them successful. "Business people" who are little more than con artists and are doing their best to separate you from your money without really creating something of value often land in jail or just go out of business when folks realize it isn't worth what they spent. It isn't always obvious in the short run, but in the long run creating something of real value is the only way to stay in business and make money. It seems to be counterintuitive to many, yet "pay it forward" and similar philosophies are rooted in that same idea/value/orientation of doing something of real value in the world.

3) I tend to live by the idea that if you want to live in a better world, the best way to make sure you do is roll your sleeves up and get to work on it. So in some sense, I am generous to other people out of selfishness, though I can't quite think how to explain that. <shrug>

I know it's too late in this article's life for this comment to be read by many people, but I just wanted to add for the record that I think at least some of the aversion to helping people comes from the fear mongering of the media and some parts of the government. When everyone could be a terrorist, anything out of the ordinary is terrifying.

Fortunately it isn't always like that; for example, when my rear-wheel-drive car's traction control failed during a blizzard (due to being turned off for a brief second as a foolish experiment), and I found myself stuck off the side of a rural road, at least six different people stopped to ask if I needed help before my tow arrived, one of them even getting out of her car.

This actually makes much more sense than a rich family stopping. I think its got to do with our psychology. We support each other because one day we'll need the support ourselves.

The richer folk see less need in stopping to help because they feel like they're self sufficient; in other words, if they themselves run into car in the future, AAA and cash will bail them out.

This more humble family however knew that if something like this occurred to them, they would definitely appreciate the help. Thus they were more inclined to stop. So I don't know why people here were so surprised...

Hell, the guy himself states all I just said in four simple words. Still, it was quite a touching story.

Since moving to Utah, I have never waited more than 5 minutes on the side of the road for somebody to pull over and help me. It's a different world here; everybody feels it their duty to help. Very cool stuff. Thanks for the story!

The $15 gas can is exactly why I picked one up for $3 and keep it in the car.

It's been transfered over three cars now and I've never used it but one day will. Some stations might not even have one to loan. Same thing for jumper cables (which I've used twice in two decades for myself, and another couple times to help others).

But there's a 180 degree different perspective here too as a woman, there will always be a few people who stop, but I rarely trust any of them. This is why I carry two different kinds of old cellphones in my car (one sprint, one GSM) since they can still call 911 or I can call AAA on my regular phone.

I've never seen a hitchhiker while driving, but maybe that's because I live in the middle of Pittsburgh.

You have to get out of the the city a little bit. The last hitchhiker I picked up was on Rt 422 north of Pittsburgh. It was cold, dark and raining so I stopped to pick him up. We got to talking and he told me his story on why he was hitching. Seems his buddy was having a bachelor party and he wanted to go. His wife hid the keys and said he couldn't go so he hitchhiked to the party and back. I dropped him off at his house and I can only imagine the hell he got from his wife when he got home...

I've dropped some off on the onramp of the Parkway before. We don't get many, but every once in a while.

I've backpacked around Mexico a couple of times in the last decade, and I found the people to be almost universally warm and friendly. One instance that comes to mind occurred at a bus station. I had just arrived (can't recall where now), and tried to arrange for a taxi. However, this station had a system I had not encountered elsewhere in Mexico or any other country: you have to buy a voucher at a kiosk inside the station and hand that to a driver outside. Somehow between leaving the kiosk and finding a taxi the voucher slipped from my hand. I climbed into the taxi and handed the driver the receipt instead, which I mistook for the voucher itself. The driver was upset and went to find the station managers.

By this point I had studied Spanish for a couple of years; I was by no means fluent, but usually knew enough to get by. However, under the stress of the situation, what ability I did have was completely gone; I started to become angry, inarticulate and flustered. A small group of employees encircled me and tried to speak to me in broken English, while I tried to respond in broken Spanish. After a few minutes, another driver entered the group and announced he had found the voucher. He easily could have pocketed it and collected the money as pure profit, but instead turned it in. I was impressed, and relieved.

This seemed very appropriate for Reddit, and it's a touching story.

I don't quite get the Hacker angle, but maybe I'm missing something.

I liked the story.

I don't know about other software developers / hacker-types, but personally I'm very grumpy and cynical at times. I get very circumspect when making friends or responding to other people's requests for help.

Maybe this is not related to Hackers, but I get the feeling that software developers can become very anti-social. I blame it on the long hours of work in isolation, or the analytically oriented thinking we are capable of (which I view as a job related problem at times, like burnout, because I can't switch it on and off as much as I'd like to).

I think it's a poignant lesson for a startup. Help a customer today, and tomorrow they'll be your biggest supporter ever. Indeed, in every hackers life, the idea of helping others now will come back to help you. Lots of cultures have this idea, a three-fold return or the golden-rule.

While it's a bit of a stretch, I think it fits nicely into the hacker mindset.

I don’t think there is any. I’m kind of ok with it, though, because this kind of off-topic story is rather rare as far as I remember.

Get used to seeing more and more of these types of submissions as the HN user base grows. Digg and Reddit both used to be great sources of tech news, but are now filled with these sentimental posts, countless memes, and tons of left wing politics.

You forgot complaints.

A story like this still doesn't make me want to pick up hitchhikers.

I used to live in the metro-Detroit area and there have been at least 3 or 4 cases in the past year where people have been robbed at gunpoint by alleged hitchhikers. This is what makes me think that this country has gone to hell.

The sources of information you place value in purposely use that narrative in order to capture your attention long enough to sell their advertising partners' products. Fear is the most powerful attention mechanism available.

"The sources of information you place value in purposely use that narrative in order to capture your attention long enough to sell their advertising partners' products. Fear is the most powerful attention mechanism available."

Haha. You mean documented evidence of crime and real people that have been robbed? You're right. I should just ignore it and chock it up to "fear".

The story linked here tries to get me with sympathy instead of fear. You shouldn't fall victim either.

What about the three hundred million others that didn't get robbed this week? You can take precautions, but to let anxiety consume you, or to change the way you treat people because of these news stories is simply a pitiful demonstration of weak-mindedness.

The question is how many people in metro Detroit picked up a hitchhiker and didn't get robbed. The answer is not 300 million. Suppose it's three? That would make the odds 50:50. Would you still not change the way you treat people?

The story is great, but the tile (and supposedly the moral of the story) is wrong. We should not do good deeds for some expected (or hoped-for) compensation or reward - on this world, or the other world. We should just do it.

"Hoy por tí, mañana por mí" is about empathy, not about literally expecting future reciprocation. In more practical terms, it's a polite way to refuse being rewarded for something done out of kindness.

Man, very rarely do I get water in my eyes!

I'm with you there.

It's not often that so much can be wrapped up in just 4 words.

In wealthier societies, people don't need others as much to get by. They tend to view others first as competition, and then freeloaders, trying to steal their hard earned dollar.

In places where there is less material wealth, people need more cooperation to get by. There's a lot more give for the sake of giving.

I could be wrong though. Thats just my experience.

The author is in a big jeep and is too tight to call a breakdown service.

When someone does stop he breaks their tire iron, lets them buy a new one, accepts their food and water, and offers a token $20 dollars as compensation?

Maybe today you, tomorrow me was said with a hint or sarcasm (although in a daytime TV movie script like this I dount it).

The uncertainty of tomorrow is really the point. If things are going well today, why not be generous and lend a hand to someone else today whilst you can. Things go round and come round, and a good deed one day inevitably becomes pay back for the good samaritan on the morrow.

This reminds me directly of the song from the musical Rent: "Today for you, tomorrow for me".

I really see no excuse why people don't carry a cell phone with them in their car. It doesn't even need to be activated, all cell phones call 911 for free. I don't stop and help people because 99% of the time I see them on their cell phones.

I believe that there is a universal law of compensation. You get what you give. You help somebody - then some time in the future somebody will help you. This "universal law" is what makes open source work.

I think it's more like you give what you get. Especially in the case of open source. Altruistic trends are kickstarted by idealistic or exceptionally kind souls, and then many people join in inspired by the example, or sometimes just conforming to expectations.

Too late - someone already registered the domain. Rightfully pointing to the story. http://todayyoutomorrowme.com

Seriously, over 1000 points? I don't remember ever seeing any article on hacker news gather so much karma. Not even those related to, you know... hacking.

Hell, someone should have put NSFW tag out there! :'(

Great story, and a very logical one, immigrants depend on other people (especially illegal immigrants) to get their troubles resolved so they know the value of helping others.

We habitually rely on institutions or the government to save our bacon, something an immigrant likely has no desire for interacting with.

About 5 years ago I planned to visit friends in Texas by car from a little place called Richards Landing in Ontario. That's a pretty long trip and even though we had two stops planned it still was going to take a lot of time on unfamiliar roads, plenty of the driving at night.

Somewhere in Iowa, about 45 minutes past Decorah a deer teleported out of nowhere in front of the car and we hit it hard enough that the deer was probably mortally wounded (it still managed to run off!) and the bonnet lock had crushed all the way in to the valve cover.

The car looked an absolute mess and it didn't look like we were going to reach our destination.

We limped in to some sleepy town (2:30 am), some gas station right off the highway wondering what to do next.

Before we could even ask the guy that ran the garage came out and said he's already called his brother in law and he was underway. We didn't really get what was going on but since we couldn't really go anywhere we just hung out, 5 minutes later a pick-up rolled in to the gas station with a sleepy looking guy in it. He jumped out, walked around our minivan, asked if it still moved or of we needed a tow. The car still ran (but made some pretty scary sounds) so he told us to follow him.

After a few minutes we got to an industrial area of the small town, he rolled up a huge garage door and we were welcomed to his car repair service.

In the space of 4 hours he took the front of the car apart, straightened out the pieces that had taken the brunt of the impact, fixed the valve cover with some of the most impressive epoxy that I've ever seen, found ways to get each and every one of the problems the car had to be fixed in a temporary but very serviceable way.

Little by little the car looked like it was going to be a reliable vehicle again and at the end the only tell-tales were the dent in the hood and two tie down straps running across it to hold it down (the lock had gone beyond repair).

So, when all was done we aked how much we owed him, the answer was simple: "Nothing. Could have happened to me just the same, and I'm sure you folks would have helped me out as much as you could too."

Whatever we did he refused payment, so in the end we bade our goodbyes and continued to Texas, from there to Fort Collins, Colorado and from there back to Canada, the 'temporary' fixes held as good as could be expected and when we turned the car in for a proper repair it was in a way a weird feeling because we'd gotten used to seeing the orange stripes across the hood :)

There are lots of nice people in this world.

That's an amazing story, almost unbelievable. Thanks for sharing.

Pay it forward

Pay it forward.

That's a good story but a little over the top. If the author had dispensed with the $20 bill in the tamale the suspension of belief would have been a little more effective.

I think you're getting downvoted for snarkiness (as perceived by the downvoter), but there is a point to be made by your comment. That is, how is automatic disbelief in a story like this any less arbitrary than automatic belief? It's interesting to me that the majority of users on both reddit and HN choose to believe.

If you haven't encountered people like the ones in the story in your life, you need to get out more. They're as common as muck - absolutely zero disbelief is required.

While I don't personally help everyone I've come across, I have done exactly as in the story, as have many of my friends: helped someone, accepted a reward to stop them from making a big issue of it, then secretly returned the reward because it wasn't the point of helping in the first place. Sometimes the most fun part of the story is the acrobatics required in returning the reward before you part ways.

Requirement for suspension of disbelief: zero.

I'm curious--did you honestly disbelieve the story, or were you just trolling?

I really don't believe it. I'm sorry, but real life doesn't play out like that. Maybe there is a grain of truth to the story but alarm bells start ringing when the tale comes straight out of a script writers workshop. Read it again!

And why does this have to be a troll post? The Internet is full of this stuff, reddit in particular (see IamA). Is it so bad to be skeptical?

The story meshes perfectly with my experience of reality.

For example, people who appear to be extremely wealthy are much less likely to be generous tippers, because most people with garish appearances are actually middle-class folk who are up to their ears in debt accrued while accumulating the trappings of their specious wealth.

The people who actually have money to spare are the ones who live within their means, whether that's tens of thousands of dollars per year, or tens of millions.

Similarly, people who seem like they have all the time in the world are actually less likely to be good samaritans, because they're caught up in the high-speed goal-oriented mental framework where every minute has a Scheduled Purpose That Must Be Fulfilled.

The people who actually have time to spare are the ones who do not over-commit themselves, and are "disconnected" in just the right ways. I don't mean disconnected technologically, because it's entirely possible to take a liesurely stroll while tinkering with a smartphone. I mean "disconnected" in the sense that they are not plugged into the country-wide network of social obligations and expectations that most of us accept without even realizing there is an alternative.

Also, from a more concrete standpoint, please consider the context in which your disbelief is thriving. This is a world where people lie to friends, business partners and loved ones for decades at a time to accumulate fraudulent wealth; where inexorable neuroses drive people to become serial rapists; where devoted hobbyists spend weeks and months of their lives to do things like catalog every instance of the "Wilhelm scream" in the history of cinema, or document the pop culture references in every episode of the Simpsons; where some privileged people are so affluent that they can spend more on a single meal than an entire family of third-world country residents spend in an entire year of living expenses. In this world, men can survive in the vacuum of outerspace, where there is literally nothing. Men can survive in the depths of the ocean, where the exponential weight of the ocean creates enough pressure to crush steel.

We live in a world of absurd extremes, pernicious and healthy. Viewed through this lens, is the OP story really so unbelievable? If Buddhist monks can forgive oppressors who murdered their friends and loved ones, is it really that improbable that some worldly Mexicans stopped to help a down-on-his-luck white guy because they had a jack and tire iron in the van?


Ah, so this is about faith in humanity, and whether the story is true or not does not matter -- as long as we believe. I can live with that. I have to say though, I've met plenty of non-poor, non-immigrant folk that like to help people out.

No, this has shit to do with "faith in humanity."

All we can do is speculate about whether the story is true or not, and in practice, its veracity is completely irrelevant to our lives. You said "I really don't believe it." What I understand that to mean is "I am as certain that story false as I am certain that I'll suffocate without air." To the extent that you are saying the story is certainly untrue, I am confused by your skepticism. What about the story seems that unbelievable? That in all the billions of people in the world, that four of them didn't end up in a van on the highway with the means and and impetus to help a stranger?

"I have to say though, I've met plenty of non-poor, non-immigrant folk that like to help people out."

Sorry... I hate how much it seems like I'm just categorically slamming everything you're saying, but I'm honestly not gunning for that: When did anyone claim that non-poor, non-immigrant folk don't enjoy helping people out? In my grandparent post, I was only contending that the likelihood of someone helping may be unintuitive. I fancy myself a non-poor, non-immigrant fellow who likes to help people out... so it clearly can't be impossible. :-)

Like I said, I am sure there is some truth to this and people are nice and all, but I think the story was embellished. It's ok for me to believe this, it doesn't mean I'm a misanthrope or anything. :) The story certainly hit an emotional chord with everyone, as it was designed to do. People are really upset that I don't just believe it outright!

You know, I almost feel like we are both saying "believe," but that we both mean something different.

When someone says "I really don't believe that," what I hear is, "I am certain that more of this story is false than true." Based on this post, though, that doesn't seem like what you're saying--it seems like you are just asserting that the story has just been modified to become a little bit "larger than life." For example, maybe in real life the tire iron didn't break, but in the Redditor's Magical-Love-Compassion-Universe, it snapped and the Mexican man's wife was on the road to get a new one just seconds later, still all smiles.

When it comes to stuff like that, I have what I would call "Schrodinger's belief" in those details. It's not that I believe or disbelieve; I simply wouldn't be surprised either way. Turns out the details were embellished? No shock there. Turns out it was patently true, through-and-through? Well that's just spiffy.

I was upset when I thought you were certain that the entire thing was fabricated. I didn't understand how anyone could come to possess a world-view that precluded the possibility of such a simple kindness. And, as we all know: Humans fear the unknown; Americans yell at it and accuse it of terrorism. So, to the extent that you were just saying "This seems embellished," I'm sorry I called you a spiritual terrorist.

When I re-read your OP now, I think I see what happened.

This was my thought process when I originally read it, and I bet the downvoters felt similarly:


> That's a good story but a little over the top.

I can buy that. Obviously I'd like to believe it's 100% true, but everyone loves to embellish.

> If the author had dispensed with the $20 bill in the tamale the suspension of belief would have been a little more effective.

Wait, what? "Suspension of disbelief?" This guy doesn't believe the entire story... and it's because the Mexican wouldn't take the poster's money? That's crazy. I've turned down money after helping a stranger before; why wouldn't the good samaritan in the story? This guy is either crazy, misanthropic, racist, or a combination of all three. My disgust must be broadcast to the world... dear colkassad, who was foolish enough to be wrong on the internet, I downvote you with the fury of a thousand suns!


Okay, maybe that last part was a little over the top. But the gist of it is: I think that when you explicated a potential embellishment that everyone else had ostensibly already accepted, they thought you were taking it one step further.

Or, I dunno. Maybe people were just pissed 'cause we're all optimistic hippies and you were harshing our rainbow love groove. The world may never know.

Thanks for continuing to explain yourself in the face of my opinionated ranting, by the way--I love Hacker News most of all for its tendency to nurture discussions like this.

What is it that you don't believe? I have direct experience (at either end) of all the elements of the story - people in poor situations refusing money because of their pride or principles, people in bad situations helping for no reason at all... There isn't a single element in the OP that I could say "I've never heard of such a thing!". The family's behaviour is perfectly consistent of what I know of certain cultures.

I am sorry you have reason to be so cynical. I can't vouch as to whether the OP is true, but I can assure you that real life can and does "play out like that".

I don't know much about Mexican culture but in south Asia, specially the rural areas, if you give someone money for a job or favor that they don't want the Monet they will often find creative ways to give it back. In my case I found my 500 "taka" bill back in my pocket even though I remember giving it to him (forcefully) and he grudgingly took it.

I have no problem believing the authenticity of the story. Some cultures behave in certain ways (when it comes to money) that is very hard for western society to understand.

Whenever I see a comment with 1000s of upmods, I'm usually expecting a good story, but there was literally nothing there. Lots of people have had car trouble pal. I mean, there are probably a full million people in the world right now with car trouble. Why is his anecdote special?

Seriously, did you read the anecdote?

The point isn't the car trouble. The point is that nobody stopped to help him....except the poor, Mexican family, who had all the best reasons for not wanting to stop, who refused payment for their help, and then sent him on his way with a lesson about social responsibility.

It's a bit cheesy for my tastes, though.

So ask for a tamale with less cheese.

It wasn't really a story about car trouble.

What a great story - I shortened it with v.gd for an IM status message, thought I'd share the link: http://v.gd/todayyou

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