Tiny gifts of kindness

Yesterday I was listening to NPR and heard one of those heart warming stories, that I believe, the media should add to their daily broadcast.

As is often the case with radio interviews, I didn’t catch the beginning of the story. I have no idea if the person on the interview is famous or if they were purely there for this anecdotal story. An experience this person had that changed, in a small part, the way they lead their life.

The gentleman in the interview told the story of how he had broken down on the side of the road with his daughter in the car. I’m not sure why he couldn’t call for help or what exactly was wrong with the car, but a lot of time passed and many tow trucks drove straight past.

Then, unprompted a family of Mexican descent pulled over to lend him a hand. Time and assistance was given, laughs were exchanged and the family even gave his hungry daughter one of their tamales.

Everything fixed, the family jumped back in their car and went to drive off. The man in question tried to give the family $20 for their time and food, but the Mexican gentleman just smiled and waved him off. The man broke into tears.

This small gesture had a lasting impact on the narrator. It seems he now regularly stops to help people and even drove 50 miles out of his way to drop someone at an airport. These acts of kindness not only help the people he assists they give him meaning and satisfaction.

It made me think of some recent research that suggested that wealthy people are less empathetic. It is something I have never really thought about, but observed frequently in life. It has been particularly obvious in my travels in developing countries. Random strangers have often lent me assistance, given me food and literally given me the shirt off their back…never expecting anything in return.

If I compare this to say San Diego, which is probably the most “generous” town in terms of donations that I have ever lived in. There are numerous charities and vast amounts of money are donated by generous individuals. So, how does this fit with the research. These people are giving, but not of themselves. Is that still empathy? Or is it the act of giving of oneself that is important and a reason why people of fewer means often seem so much happier?

Like all research, which is a series of data points that have been aggregated and twisted by assumptions, it will never tell the full story.

As an anecdote, to the contrary, I can offer a small scene that I recently witnessed. A car was stopped on the side of the road billowing with smoke and two big burly guys stood by helplessly. As I gazed further up the road I saw a shiny new Lexus pulled over and an attractive lady, dressed in business suit and high heels, running back toward the overheating car clutching a small fire extinguisher and a grin on her face.

Everything about the scene was reversed and that is what made it so special and memorable. Yes, it looked like the car was merely overheating and not actually on fire. However, this wonderful person had taken the time to try make a difference. Her facial expression told the story and no doubt the guys waiting by the car would greatly appreciate her intervention regardless of the outcome.

Perhaps it is time to set a goal of helping a random stranger at least once a week. Not with money, but with time, a smile or positive words. Compliment them on their clothes, pick up something they dropped…. anything, it all makes a difference and humanizes us all. Something that can get lost in a fast paced, technology driven, material world.

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