It Matters: The Kindness of Strangers

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Kindness matters, written in black calligraphy against a white background, framed by purple flowers.

In our culture, where the time spent alone or on social media can eclipse face-to-face time, it’s easy to start believing that the human race is largely out for themselves. That no one is thinking of their fellow man. That simple kindness is no longer in operation.

I was in that space, for a period of time. It didn’t help that everywhere I turned, there were (and are this and every day, if we choose to focus on them) stories of corrupt politics, rampant wars, and people suffering.

And yet, there were moments in my everyday life that totally contradicted this

One day, while eating lunch with my husband and daughter, a little old lady came up to our table and offered my husband a coin. Perplexed, we asked her why. “In my country, when children are well-behaved, we reward them”. Now it was our turn to stare at our daughter. She was busily engaged drawing a picture, but stopped to look at us. I almost laughed out loud. This woman had happened to catch K in a well-behaved moment. Now don’t get me wrong – my daughter is wonderful and I love her dearly. And she can be an absolute angel. Still, she is as prone to a temper tantrum or meltdown as any four-year-old. Yet here was a moment of calm. Of quiet. I totally hadn’t noticed, yet this stranger had.

Then there was a recent experience at my gym. It was my first fitness class, and as I entered the room looking around, trying to figure out what equipment I needed, a woman approached me. She helped me, not only by showing me where all the equipment was, but by carrying most of it back for me. She even went so far as to lay a towel down on my mat.

I’ll admit it – I was in a bit of shock. I just wasn’t expecting it, and afterwards, it got me thinking. Those two moments weren’t the only times I’d experienced kindness at the hands of a stranger. In fact, almost daily, someone I didn’t know acted in some small, kind way towards me – without expecting anything in return. This kindness flew in the face of the creeping feeling I’d had, that humanity was going down the tubes. Maybe, in fact, the opposite was true. If strangers could manage to be nice to each other, who knew what possibilities still existed for people to demonstrate love on a grander scale? Maybe world peace wasn’t totally possible, but what about community peace? Or peace between the “neighbors” we meet in our daily lives?

It turns out that “stranger kindness” is indeed very important to our sense of well being. According to research, civility ranks as more important than crime rates to our sense of community safety and belonging. In fact, many reported that it was the “single most important factor to their quality of life”. Wow! Even more interesting, research also showed that people understand its domino effect. In other words, kindness begets kindness. I certainly found this true of my own experience: I discovered a genuine interest in “paying forward” the kindness I received. And that doing so felt really good.

There are other words to describe this kindness: politeness, even etiquette. Whatever we choose to call it, one thing seems certain: we need to embrace – and practice – kindness as a means to a more fulfilling, rewarding life. Truly, the small, everyday moments like the ones I experienced are what make life rich.

What about you? Have you ever been surprised by the kindness of a stranger? What was your experience? When have you shown kindness to someone you didn’t know?

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