Where Has All the Kindness Gone?
November 14, 2018
By Diane Altona
A former teacher and editor and a world traveler, Diane lives in San Diego. Now a free-lance writer, she also runs a writers' group, does genealogical research and--as you'll see in the piece below--manages to notice the positive, even when more than enough negative sometimes surrounds her.
Struggling to hoist the heavy purchase out of the shopping cart, I heard a man’s voice. “Can I help you with that?” I stammered “Thank you,” but momentum sent me staggering with the new vacuum cleaner, dumping it with a loud “thunk” into my car. I repeated my “Thank you,” adding “Where there’s a will there’s a way, I guess.” He smiled and returned to his car. “How nice of him,” I thought. My eyes filled with tears. Why was I puddling up over an offer of assistance?
In the big warehouse store no one had offered to help me lift the unwieldy cleaner into the cart. It was a very busy day, people all around, including men of substantial size who were undoubtedly stronger than I, a five-feet-three, 86-year-old female. And how often had I courted a hernia, lifting 38-pound bags of cat litter into and out of a deep cart in that same store? I had grown so used to having no help that a simple offer of assistance nearly made me weep.
Are we in such a sorry state that a simple act of human kindness, one I used to accept as an integral part of my early years growing up in Ohio, can now bring on tears? Has all the kindness gone the way of the now defunct telegram, something we used to assume was here to stay – if we even gave it a thought at all? What happened to the warm waves of caring about each other that swept over our entire country after the horror of 9-11?
Surely that young man was not unique. There had to be other thoughtful people in our sunny city. I made it a point to pay attention, to look around me and make mental note of other random acts of kindness, as the bumper stickers once touted.
I have something hopeful to report. Oh, it’s not headline stuff. Like most good news, it can be found on the back pages of our daily lives. Tucked away beyond the lurid, hideous and disheartening front page are small, pleasant moments of humanity.
There was the young woman behind the checkout counter at the variety store who giggled as I paid for the three funny greeting cards I had chosen. She said she always knew there was a customer in the store, even if they were invisible behind the card rack, because she could hear them laughing. Nice to know that simple things can still amuse this younger generation that too often appears to be tied to technology, especially cell phones, insulated against the world around them.
I remembered the young mother, her baby grinning from his seat in the grocery cart filled with what looked like a month’s worth of baby food. Seeing my cart, she told me to go ahead because I had so little to pay for. Simple courtesy, yes, but rare enough that I remembered it.
Changing lanes on a freeway is a study in how drivers have learned to ignore my blinking turn signal. Yet a teenage driver beeped his horn to get my attention, then held back so I could move in front of him. I hope he saw my cheerful thank-you wave. I’d like to think he makes courtesy a habit.
A certain grocery store comes to mind when I think of making courtesy a part of human behavior. Ironically, despite high gas prices, my choice of where to shop is notbased on its proximity. I shop there because the personnel smile and ask if they can be of assistance. I know it must be part of their training but the pleasant response they get from customers is bound to make polite kindness a habit. The transformation of a once sullen or shy young person into a smiling kid who makes eye contact and asks to help a stranger is a heady experience for this former teacher.
Where has all the kindness gone? It’s out there, if we open our eyes to see it, train our ears to hear it, and reciprocate with positive reinforcement. It simply requires paying attention.
© Diane Altona, 2018