A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I've always been a woulda-coulda-shoulda kind of guy. I know the perfect thing to say or do in any situation. It's just that I don't think of it until about a week after it happens.

You know the type. If I stumble upon some teenagers trying to steal my hubcaps, my first reaction will be to apologize for interrupting their work. Days later I'll realize what I coulda done, shoulda said or woulda been justified in doing if only I'd thought of it at the time.

Some might think of me as a "wimp." I prefer to think of myself as "cautious."

Which is fine in many situations. But I'm learning that there are times when we all need to be able to react quickly and decisively to life's drama as it unfolds before us. Indeed, there are occasions when it is a flat-out wrong for us NOT to do so.

Not too long ago I was shopping for a birthday present when a woman entered the store with her sobbing daughter. The little girl, who looked to be about 4, was wailing about wanting to go to "the other store," and the woman responded loudly with harsh words and threats. I felt sorry for the child but then, she WAS being pretty obnoxious. And anyway, it wasn't my place to get involved in a family dispute, was it?

Then the woman hit the girl. Not a quick stroke to the seat of the pants, but a solid blow to her head that sent the girl sprawling. The woman then bent over the child, shaking a finger in her face and scolding her with vicious oaths while she sobbed painfully.

I didn't know what to do. I was outraged by what I saw happening, but my cautious nature held me back. I glanced around to see if someone anyone was going to come to the little girl's aid, but the store seemed strangely empty. Clearly, something had to be done, and if anyone was going to do it, it had to be me. The time had finally come to stop being such a wimp.

I walked toward the woman. She looked at me. I searched her eyes for embarrassment or fear; I saw only contempt and anger. I didn't know what to say, so I just said the first thing that came to mind: "Look, I know how frustrating kids can be. But please don't do that. You're hurting her."

In a more perfect world the mother would have looked at me tearfully, thanked me for helping her regain control of herself and explained the devastating reasons for her rage. I would have then referred her to my friend the family therapist, after which I could have hopped up on my trusty steed and galloped into the sunset after leaving behind the requisite silver bullet, of course.

Unfortunately, the world isn't perfect. The woman sneered at me and snapped, "Why don't you just mind your own business?" Then she took the little girl by the hand and stormed away. But as she left, the child looked at me, and I like to think she silently thanked me for stopping the hurt.

Then again, maybe she was wondering why I didn't do more. As usual, I've thought a lot about that, and I realize that there was more that I could have done, or should have said, or would have followed through on to affect a more lasting change in the situation if only I'd thought of it at the time. Obviously, I've got a lot to learn about responsible involvement.

But I'm determined to learn it. The good feeling I felt after trying to help however feeble that attempt was gives me the courage to try again. And to do it right this time. Don't get me wrong I'm not turning into Batman or anything. I'm just trying to make my little corner of the world a happier, safer place.

And look what I've already accomplished: there's at least one less wimp.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and