May 25, 2013
Written by Joe Pisani
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 10:48
A friend of mine who grew up in Greenwich and lives in Fairfield married a girl from the Valley, so he’s seen much of the civilized world as we know it. But when he traveled to Vermont recently, he stepped into another dimension. It was not the civilized world – as we know it.
At one point, he and his wife stopped to study the road map, and a local resident ambled over to ask, “Are you lost? Can I help?”
This simple act of unsolicited kindness took them by surprise, which makes you wonder whether we’re too accustomed to having doors slammed in our faces, motorists cut us off on the turnpike and horns honked if we don’t move fast enough.
Are people different up there in the woods, or are we callous down here from random acts of malice? I suppose, though, for every act of incivility I cite, someone can tell a tale about how a passing stranger stopped to help change a flat tire or jump-start a dead battery -- once upon a time, 25 years ago. But, I fear, they are the exception and not the rule.
My friend said his trip was punctuated by the kindness of strangers. We’ve all had similar experiences. I’ve gotten on elevators in Ohio and had people smile broadly and say, “Good morning!” which is something I seldom see here.
Many of us consider kindness a weakness. Giving your seat to a pregnant woman and helping someone whose car broke down are things we don’t do because we’re either too suspicious or too selfish. Yet these simple gestures should come naturally for us, according to Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, authors of “On Kindness.”
“Kindness is seen either as a cover story or as a failure of nerve,” they say. “Popular icons of kindness – Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa – are either worshipped as saints or gleefully unmasked as self-serving hypocrites … Most people, as they grow up now, secretly believe that kindness is a virtue of losers.”
Even though it’s not cool to be kind, part of us wants to be kind. We just need someone to show us how, someone to break the pattern our culture has trapped us in. Considerate acts have a ripple effect, and we remember them long afterwards.
My daughter recently said — almost incredulously — “Someone gave me a seat on the train,” as if she’d been handed a $100,000 check.
“Kindness is infectious,” F.X. Lasance wrote in his book, “Kindness.”
“One kind action leads to another. Our example is followed. This is the greatest work which kindness does to others – that it makes them kind themselves.”
A conductor on my morning train exudes kindness; it comes naturally to her. “Thank you … thank you … How are you today?” she says, smiling, as she passes through the car punching tickets. Just seeing her makes me want to smile back and respond, “How are YOU doing?”
Yes, kindness is contagious — it’s a condition worth catching.
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