I believe in circumstantial kindness; the little things that we find ourselves doing for another in a specific moment without any particular reason.
I was at the airport waiting for a red-eye flight. All the passengers were exhausted, but one – a lone mother with a stroller, luggage, and a wailing baby – seemed particularly frustrated. Everyone was staring at them but no one approached them to offer a hand. As the waiting area started to clear up, suddenly a woman went up to her and offered to take her bags. The mother looked so relieved and at the same time, the baby suddenly stopped crying.
I don’t know that woman, but I guess she’s probably just like the rest of us: not particularly good or bad. She wouldn’t be awarded a medal and couldn’t have been trying to impress anyone. But in that circumstance, she showed a kindness that all of the passengers knew and could offer but did not. And that made a world of difference to that mother. I knew, because I have experienced it.
I was moving things from my studio at school back to my dorm. I hailed a cab because I couldn’t walk home carrying all of my stuff. Already flustered by the activity of moving, I was further upset by the prospect of a grumpy driver because I know the fare for such a short distance wouldn’t worth much to him. Much to my surprise, however, the driver saw that I was an architecture student and struck up a pleasant conversation with me. When we arrived, he helped me carry my models and supplies to the lobby without me even asking or offering a sizeable tip like I had to with the other drivers.
This driver didn’t have to be so nice. He could have done the entire business without saying a word or making any friendly gesture. But in that circumstance, he showed me a kindness that was not necessary yet made a positive difference on my previously grim moving experience.
A couple of months after that, I was walking on the street when I saw an elderly woman dropped one of her gloves on the sidewalk. She had a hard time bending down to pick it up, and there seemed to be an invisible string tied to the glove that kept on tugging it just as she was about to reach it. In the few seconds between when I first saw her and when I picked up the glove and handed it to her, I never paused to think, “gee, I better pick up the glove for her before the wind blows it away.” I don’t know if I would do the same if something similar happens again. But in that circumstance, I did.
In today’s competitive world, I feel that most of our behaviors are grounded in either a string of quid-pro-quos or an elaborate scheme to establish a certain image. Perhaps I am just cynical. After all, I do realize that not all of us are saints. But that is precisely why I believe in the little kind gesture done by anyone, which may or may not occur again, in a particular time, to a particular person. Yes, it is circumstantial, but it might just make someone’s day.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.