the handshake that means more

A Handshake That Helped More Than He Knew

Even the helping hand that’s poorly received may be doing more good than you realize

A friend who prefers to remain anonymous—for reasons that will become clear—relates a story that nicely illustrates something we at Good Turns have long held to be true: when you extend a helping hand, you never really know what kind of impact you’re going to make. Even when it seems like your gesture is in vain, there’s often more to the situation than meets the eye.

Our friend prefers to remain nameless because he’s a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and his story concerns an AA meeting in New York where he’s a regular. “I go to this meeting every day, it meets at 7:30 in the morning, and I’m there no matter the weather, rain or shine—or snow, for that matter. And a couple of years ago I’m there one morning and this new guy walks in,” our friend recalls.

The “new guy” was young, raw, and angry-looking, our friend says. “He kind of reminded me of me when I was new. But he was there a couple of minutes early, so I went over and stuck out my hand and introduced myself.”

“You never know. You’re probably helping people more than you would think.”

But the new guy wasn’t having it. He shook our friend’s hand, but that was all. “He gave me one of those looks that newcomers give you, like, ‘Leave me alone.’ So I left him alone. I didn’t want to alienate him or drive him away, actually. I didn’t realize it, but that was his first AA meeting. I was sure he hated me, so I just let him be.”

Rather than being driven away, the new guy kept coming back to the meeting, our friend reports—and was still sober a year later. “When you get a year of sobriety, a lot of meetings will celebrate that in some way. So when this guy had a year, they asked him to get up and say a few words, and he said something that just totally blew me away.”

“He was talking about his first AA meeting, and he actually pointed at me, and said, ‘I think if this guy hadn’t reached out his hand to me in that first meeting, I don’t think I would have stayed. I think I would have kept drinking and I’d probably be dead right now.’ And I was floored.”

It must have been a powerful moment. But the lessons wasn’t lost on our friend. “I tell that story not to say how great I am for reaching out my hand. That’s just what I was taught do when I got sober, most of the time I do get that angry newcomer look. But the point of the story for me is that you never know who you’re going to help. You never know, even when you’re getting that angry look, you don’t realize how much you’ve helped that guy. So I always try to reach out my hand, and I always try to share my experience. A lot of people are afraid to share in meetings because they think they won’t be helping anyone, but the way I look at it, if you don’t open your mouth in a meeting, you know exactly how many people you’re going to help: none. If you do open your mouth, you at least have the chance of helping someone. And you never know. You’re probably helping people more than you would think.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Broad Bean Media

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