This I Believe

Robert - Washington, District of Columbia
Entered on January 26, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in the power of kindness to strangers. Mechanization and suburbanization have created a society where such kindness is discouraged. Yet, I believe that treating those I encounter with the compassion and genuine regard every human being deserves is both vital and rewarding. I came to this belief because I was exposed to and touched by such uninhibited kindness.

From the minute I met Law, I was astounded by the sincerity of his concern for others. He would strike up genuine conversations with anyone, time and again sharing his relentless goodwill with those who crossed his path. He would reach out and engage a saleswoman at the register, earnestly bemoaning the fact that she lacked a stool to rest her legs. Receiving a muttered apology from a woman who bumped into him at the bookstore, he would cheerily protest “Oh, but you did nothing wrong!”

Law’s exceptional kindness provoked equally exceptional reactions in others. Visiting the grocery store with Law, I witnessed the girl at the cash register recognize him and step out from her booth just to give him a hug. Watching this scene unfold, I realized that Law’s approach to life brought tremendous happiness both to himself and to others.

This realization has profoundly shaped me. I try now to live with outward compassion for others, and though I often fail, I feel fulfilled nonetheless by the touchingly real signs of appreciation I receive. I met a fellow enthusiast of the djembe (an African drum) in Officer Nunu, one of the University Police Department officers who guards my dorm, because I took the 5 minutes to converse with him. Those 5 minutes changed things radically, as he became friendly and approachable, less of a distant authority figure behind a desk than just another person. Now we’re such friends that I bring down my djembe and play a little for him if his shift is really boring.

It’s not always easy to be a kind person. Giant lawns and gated communities have decreased social interaction at home while iPods and infrequent use of mass transportation allow the individual to avoid others when out in society. So much as looking someone straight in the eye can be interpreted as a provocation. These impediments to unbridled friendliness make reaching out in such a direct way to others an act of considerable self discipline. Sometimes those I touch are not warmed by my concern, but rather frightened by it, being unused to kindness from a stranger.

Personally, I find this approach to life a comforting bulwark against estrangement; kindness helps me to fight against my own introverted tendencies. Conversing with the homeless, entertaining kids on the Metro, befriending the person next to me in lecture, and other acts of unasked-for kindness: in this I believe.