Feeling that “tug” and responding to it?

I'd been having a bad interaction and was feeling a little bruised about being on the internet, when this email from Andrea landed in my box:

"I just wanted to thank you for bringing "Waiting To Unfold" to our attention.

I have a friend in labor right now (seems to be a week long process, so I
told her to quickly read the pregnancy posts!) with her third girl. Her first two girls have had some medical issues, and they don't know yet if this third child will, so the idea of waiting for a child to unfold is strong.

When I read your review of the book, I felt a little tug, and I'm
starting to learn to listen to that, so I ordered it and was able to
deliver it today, on the heels of a neighborhood girls' night out for

It's so easy to get busy in my own life, with work and school and baby
turning one soon, and the laundry and things that are not getting done,
that I forget the struggles of my good friends. Then I realize that even
they have amazing support compared to so many, like your recent post.

So i'm going to do my best to listen more to that tug that tells me to
reach out to someone. The same tug that suggested I donate my son's
clothes to my former student, unwed and twenty, having a boy the same
month mine was born. Easy to think, but I need to take the next step and
act on it.  I know people of different faiths have different theories
on that tug, whether it's God or some other force. I don't know if I
need it to have a name, as long as I learn to listen to it.

So all that to say thank you for providing a way for me to listen and reach out and do something small for someone special."

This hit me, hard. First of all, what inspired Andrea to send me that email exactly when I needed to hear it? She must have been listening to the tug in order to send it.

Also, I've started trying to pay attention to the tug when I hear it in my own life. I feel like sometimes I'm afraid to put my neck out or to overstep my bounds, but inevitably when I do follow the tug it opens up something or I find out the person really needed it.

I thanked Andrea, and she responded:

"I was thinking about times that I haven't responded to the tug…
They really stick with me. Like something so small, but I was behind a
young mom at the library and they told her she had fines that had been
sent to a collection agency and I wished so badly I had my purse so I
could cover her fees. I still try to remember the name I heard so I
could go back and give the money, it was clearly a tug I should have
listened to.

Definitely safety concerns and a
general social awkwardness come in to play when the tug is related to a
stranger. It's A lot easier when I get the feeling a friend could use
dinner or flowers or a break from their kiddos. It's harder when I don't
know the person and feel weird about even walking up to them to see if I
can help.

Would love to hear people's thoughts
on that, and on balancing the desire to teach our kids to listen to the
tug, while maintaining the basic safety rules and stranger guidelines
we want them to follow."

Yeah: Do you know what Andrea and I are talking about with "the tug"? I wouldn't describe it exactly as a feeling of obligation, but more of just an opportunity, an opening, and the thing that makes sense is to fill that opening. Whether it's a small conversation with someone, or handing someone a twenty dollar bill, or giving someone a ride, or anything that helps someone else in a concrete way.

And, how do we respond to it? In some ways, I feel like it's easier for me to respond when I'm feeling like I have fewer personal resources. When I'm feeling like I have more to spare, I don't seem to notice the tug, or there's more resistance to answering the tug.

Thoughts? And also, what about Andrea's concerns about safety and modeling for our kids?

25 thoughts on “Feeling that “tug” and responding to it?”

  1. I definitely understand “the tug” and wanting to indulge it more. I say indulge, because the sense of satisfaction is so real when I do it. I think you feel the tug more when you have fewer personal resources, because you are more empathetic to the need for just a little unsolicited help during those times.As to the safety issues, sometimes you have to take a risk and just have faith in human decency. I will be the first to admit that this can bite you in the a$$. I was about to cross a big intersection one afternoon when a little old lady (I know, cliche) grabbed my arm and asked me in broken English to help her across. No tug necessary. Obviously, I helped her. The light turned red long before we reached the other side of the street and her short stature would have made her very vulnerable to being hit by traffic. She thanked me. I felt great about the interaction…until I realized 10 minutes later that my wallet was gone. Jeez! But you know what? I would do it again.
    The balance with kids is hard. I don’t want my daughter to hesitate to help when and where she can in life. But I don’t want to compromise her safety either. The tug to help a stranger nearly always happens out in the open, on the street, in the grocery store, at the playground,with other people around. So less physical danger. Others walk by and pretend not to see the need. I want to be(and I want my daughter to be) someone who helps, even if it means I lose a wallet from time to time.

  2. I loved this: the post, your response, the follow-up questions, and the responses so far. But most of all the reminder to attend to the tug, because I too feel it, and the moments I don’t heed it haunt me as well. My little ones are still so little I don’t know yet how to teach them to listen for and follow their heart instincts, but I hope I will be able to do so, and I appreciate the reminder to start thinking about it.To me, when it comes to the safety issues, it actually reminds me of what you’ve said before, Moxie, about trying to teach kids to listen to their ‘gut’ – that when someone or something happens that makes them uneasy deep down, they should listen to that, and take the time to make a decision about it, including perhaps walking away, or calling an adult, or shouting, or doing something equally hard. Maybe this is the positive converse of that same thing, which really boils down to teaching our children to trust in themselves and their deepest down instincts, and providing enough stability and security to them ourselves that their faith in those abilities is met with reassurance and presence.
    I’d also just like to take the opportunity to thank you, again, Moxie, for doing what you do, for providing us this space to think and learn and share together. Coming to this blog, as I have for 3.5 years now, has made me a better mother in concrete, practical, tangible, really real ways. And I really thank you for that.

  3. I get it.I try to act on it as much as I can, but it *is* trickier with strangers. Sometimes it’s easy – a man in a wheelchair with severely twisted limbs couldn’t manage getting his own coffee refill at Panera so I fixed it for him. Sometimes it’s more difficult because you aren’t sure what your personal risks are, let alone whether you should take them.
    My current tug – whether/how to approach the mom of one of my students about picking him up and taking him out for a day this summer. They’re finally un-homeless, but not by much. I don’t think she’d mind if I took him off her hands for the day and I think he would love the attention and the chance to escape for the day. It would mean an hour’s drive into the worst part of the city, but…but.

  4. And when do you know if the stranger will rebudd you? To the Panera-helper, some people take it as an insult when you offer help and they want to exert their independence. Been there, embarrassment and all. Sometimes our help is so not wanted. And I think that is why the tug gets ignored…

  5. I ignored a ‘tug’ a few weeks ago. I was having coffee with a friend and our toddlers. A couple came into the coffee shop with a newborn in a carseat carrier, and mom was in a simple, no-frills wheel chair. I wanted to tell them that they were doing awesome to be out of the house and that if they wanted any support, I could give them all the resources in the area (postpartum support, surgical and pt support, …). But, I didn’t. Next time, I think I’ll say something positive and if the parents say anything about how it’s hard, I can mention resources.

  6. About teaching kids: my husband is a pastor in a small church, so I realized early on that I had to teach my kids something other than “don’t talk to strangers,” if for no other reason than the pastors’ kids need to treat visiting missionaries respectfully, whether they’ve ever met them or not. So the message I communicate over and over to my littles is, “You can be friendly, you can be kind, but never NEVER go anywhere with anyone unless Mom or Dad says it’s ok.” Talk to strangers. Share with strangers. Be generous and loving and kind. Don’t go anywhere. With anyone.

  7. Well I responded to a little tug this week, had lunch with a friend who is having trouble in her marriage. Was thinking that i was providing support and encouragement to seeking counseling to help out. Now find myself squarely inserted into the middle of their toxic communication. *sigh* That was not a good decision.

  8. @jess – Totally agree that an offer of help can be taken as an affront. Rather than ‘let me get that for you’ I’ll say something like, ‘may I help you with that?’ and if the person says no, well, then they do.

  9. I firmly believe in listening to the tug, for good or bad. I tell my daughter that if she gets a bad feeling about a situation or person, she should listen to that gut feeling and consider why, and talk to me or another confidant about it. If something feels not-right, then it probably isn’t right.I responded to the tug when the woman in front of me was checking out with a welfare card, and the manager had come over to tell her that there wasn’t enough money on her card to cover her purchases (she needed $10 more). I noticed she was buying a $10 package of frozen shrimp — I had the exact same package in my own cart. I just decided in an instant to hand her $10. She was grateful. The cashier and manager looked at me like I was crazy to indulge her luxury. I don’t buy shrimp often, but chose it on a whim because we were celebrating with family that evening. I gave her the money because I thought maybe she wanted to celebrate something with her family, too. Or maybe she just liked shrimp. It made me enjoy my shrimp a little better, too.

  10. Matthieu Ricard points out that if you are sizing up your compassion/empathy, you are already in the completely wrong place. I know that it is very hard for many people.

  11. (Yes, I am the Andrea from the OP)Love Tricia’s take on it… teaching our kids not to talk to strangers isn’t very realistic, they are actually expected to do it much more than we probably realize. But teaching them emphatically not to go anywhere with strangers seems much more important and relevant.
    And I love that BeeBee bought shrimp, that’s exactly the kind of thing I was referencing with the tug. There are definitely bigger TUGS in our life, too, but the little ones are the ones I think come and go so quickly, yet are so easy to act on if we notice them, often at little cost to us but great benefit to the recipient.

  12. Had the same experience as BeeBee- it just felt wrong to let the mom in front of me NOT get that box of Kix and a watermelon for her twin boys. I told the cashier that I just think what goes around comes around- he then gave me a high value store coupon to thank me for helping out.I’m feeling the tug to take a parenting class. I’ll need to scrimp and save a bit for it, but am following through because if I don’t I’ll regret it.
    I’d like some ideas on explaining creepy tugs to the 5yo- sometimes he doesn’t get the “be friendly, but don’t go ANYWHERE with someone one”- he thinks it would be fine.

  13. A lot of people don’t seem to respond to these tugs because they don’t want to get involved with whatever is going on. As a result people tend to just keep to themselves and instead of creating a feeling of community we end up creating feelings of isolation.

  14. Where I live, most people generally don’t seem as inclined to respond to tugs. I guess in urban areas, everyone is just too wrapped up in their own lives and can’t take the time to relax or take more note of what’s going on around them.

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