“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
– Dalai Lama
I just finished reading a book compiled by Lonely Planet called ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ and it got that old brain of mine thinking. The book was made up of 26 tales of kindness from wanderlusting travellers trotting the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed each story, especially because it more than ignited my wanderlust and had me prowling flights late at night, searching for the cheapest deal, but what struck me as a little odd was the way in which each story implied that the simple act of kindness was something out of the ordinary, something totally unexpected and almost shocking to the receiver.
Is that what has happened to us? Is an act of kindness now something so rare we actually feel surprised by it? Don’t get me wrong, no act of kindness should be taken for granted, but it should be something that happens so frequently that it’s on par with a shared smile or a friendly ‘good morning’ to your neighbour. I couldn’t help but wonder that if the little Turkish boy who had offered the only food in his family’s kitchen (a chunk of old cheese and stale bread) to the travellers who had run out of petrol, was instead a rich person, would the act of kindness still be viewed in this way? The fact that he was a child and clearly poor, and yet still happy to share his cheese and bread with strangers from a foreign land is of course a pure act of kindness, but it’s also just human nature is it not? To want to care for other people and make them feel at home in your country. We shouldn’t want anyone to go hungry and that little boy is no different. And yet he is a rare gem in this world. What if the strangers had run out of petrol outside a rich man’s mansion? Would he have come running out to offer them some bread and a place to rest? Chances are, no. And that is so sad. But if he had, would it have been featured in this book? I doubt it. Why? Because for most people it might not be such a big deal. What’s a loaf of bread to a multi-millionaire? And yet to me, I’d actually be more surprised if the rich man were to do it because in this day and age it’s the rich people who tend to be the greedy, selfish ones. Not all rich people are like that, but in my personal experience, it’s usually the people with nothing that are the most humble, the kindest.
I wish we were all kind. I wish we weren’t such selfish, self-absorbed, materialistic, greedy pigs. Sometimes when I smile at strangers and they don’t smile back, I get upset. But then I remember the world we’ve created where it’s not really accepted to just smile or say ‘hi’ to people you don’t know. It’s ridiculous. When a stranger does smile back, I want to run up and hug them because it’s that rare. Every single day I thank the cleaning lady at our office for emptying my bin and she always laughs. No one else in the entire building thanks her. It’s her job to clean, right? She’s getting paid to do it. So what…does that mean I shouldn’t thank her? Absolutely not. I will always say thank you. I, however, have learnt that I mustn’t expect the same from other people. If I hold the door open for the guy behind me, he probably won’t say thank you, but I don’t dwell on it. It’s not my fault that he forgot those 2 little kind words. It can be particularly challenging here in China to remain kind all the time because from the outside it seems like everyone is only thinking about number one (themselves, duh!). I can’t tell you how many times I get shoved off the bus or banged into on a daily basis, and sometimes I just want to scream, but I contain it. I don’t shove back. That would go against my religion, that being kindness, of course.
Anyway, I’m getting carried away. All I really want to say is that wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all just learn to be kind again? Genuine kindness. The kind that doesn’t need a story to highlight how special it is because the mere existence of it in itself is enough. Clearly though, it might do the people of this world a whole lot of good if they were to get their hands on books about kindness. Perhaps schools should integrate a new class called ‘The Art of Kindness’ into their curriculum. Because guys, clearly we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten how to be kind, how to give without expecting something in return, how to love, to care, to think about someone other than ourselves. Not all of us, of course, but a lot of us. I feel like people are weary of acts of kindness done out of the goodness of our hearts. A young man offering to help an elderly lady across the road could be viewed as a perfect mugging scenario. Helping to clear the table you’re eating at could make the waiter look like he’s not doing his job properly, that he somehow needs assistance. I mean, come on! Are you kidding me? It’s human nature people! We are supposed to be a gentle, kind, caring species.
I have many tales of kindness that would be worthy of a place in a Lonely Planet book, especially kindness from strangers, and yet these strangers gave me their kindness in such modest ways, that I genuinely believe there are still good people out there. People who aren’t jaded by the evils of this world, people who will offer a helping hand without thinking twice, people who truly feel happy making other people happy. I want to be one of them. I don’t want to be dragged down by the masses of people who shove and claw their way to the top, screaming “ME ME ME”! Oh, but it can be hard to keep yourself from getting submerged in that embarrassingly selfish world. Sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of it and then I remember who I am, and where I come from and how to be human, to be kind. And I think of all those people who have shared their kind hearts with me and me with them, and how we are on such an interesting journey in this big old world. I wonder if the Canadian man who gave me money to take a bus back to Maputo in Mozambique after my bag was stolen has ever received such an act of kindness in return? Maybe he doesn’t even remember it because he is that kind all the time, or maybe karma did something beautiful for him. I hope so. I know for sure that I won’t ever forget that act of kindness. Nor will I ever forget the Indian man in Kuala Lumpur who helped me find my great uncle’s gravestone in a cemetery of thousands of headstones, after he found me in a heap of tears, lost on a street with a dead phone and no way to communicate where I wanted to go with the locals.
There really are kind people in the world. In fact I’m sure everyone is born kind, but somehow they get lost along the way and that cruelty spreads like wild fire and kills all the kindness. But today is a blue moon and I have a feeling that the kindness will creep back out, because as the saying goes: “once in a blue moon…”.
p.s. Be kind, yo’!