This Blog Is About

This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

A Man I Don't Know Did Me a Favor

In my community, we have a store, commonly called a "big box store" or a warehouse store.  It is huge and it is full of huge boxes of items of all kinds for purchase.  The idea is to stock up and save money on the price of each individual item in the package.  It is a big, anonymous, crowded place.  The environment is not that pleasant, there are no store employees to help you until checkout and most people shopping there are in a down-to-business mode and sometimes border on rude.  The customers endure all this (oh, and, a crowded parking lot too) because it's a good deal.
The store negotiates agreements with companies selling products at deeply discounted prices but, the company wants to unload these products for some reason of their own.  Therefore, the products available are not consistent.  There's a few things that are there for a long time and then, just when you begin to count on it, that product disappears from the shelves.
One item I had been buying there for a long time was frozen, organic blueberries.  I have been very happy to find such an expensive item (which is also very healthy, not to mention tasty) reliably available.  But, as with all things at Costco, recently, the inventory has been thinning out.  One day I was there, searching and searching through the bags of frozen fruit for my prized blueberries and none were to be found.  A man and his little girl came up and he spotted one (they were there for the same item).  He pulled it out and handed it to me.  His little girl grabbed it from me-it was a child so I gave way, of course.  He gently reprimanded her for doing that and gave it back to me.  I tried to say no you found it (it was the one and only, last bag left), but he shook his head and let me keep it.
How generous.  This man doesn't know me.  We'll never see each other again.  But, I have not forgotten this small, but significant gesture.  Sadly, in a crowded, competitive world, these 'random acts of kindness' are becoming rare.  Happily, it does still happen.
What would you have done in this situation?  Sometimes it seems like there are nice people in the world and not nice people, doesn't it.  We each know who we are because we know what we truly think about in our secret, most innermost thoughts.  We know how we think about others (kindly or meanly?).  So, even if we cover it with politeness, we know ourselves what is inside.  
If you begin to notice what goes on internally, what your own values are and what choices you actually make, you may find a very loving, generous nature at your heart of hearts.  But if you see that there is vindictiveness, a value on getting even, a penchant for criticizing others, acquisitiveness, or any other not so positive ideas, you may want to turn some compassion on yourself.
Often those who are spiteful and self-aggrandizing or just mean-spirited have been hurt earlier in life.  This is where therapy can be of enormous help.
It's not always the case, of course.  Recently the Greater Good Science Center published an article resulting from their research on empathy:
What they found is that as people become more elevated in status and wealth, they become less compassionate.  Those with less tend to be more tuned in to others, more willing to empathize, and more likely to offer help.  The hypothesized reason for this is that the high status people are separated from the fray.  They are not as exposed to the struggles of the majority and also do not fear those difficulties themselves.  In a sense, they live an insulated life.  However, it isn't good for them  as what has been found in previous studies is that compassion leads to personal happiness and the happiest countries are those that have the most equality.  If you identify with this description (elevated status and less concern for the plight of others), you might look around at your peers who practice philanthropy.  They might be considered an exception to this general finding.  Why is that?  What's different?  What motivates them?  You may find something of interest to you there.
So, there are two ways that I have proposed wherein a person can find themselves not very adept at empathizing and thus, living a rather insulated life.
Sharing your joys and trials with others and feeling for others when they share theirs, or, even just when you see it or hear about it, is a human gift and contributes to your well being.


  1. I live in Chattanooga, TN and during the holidays people tend to be generous. Many people will pay for the food for the people in the car behind them in a fast food drive thru. Last year, I was preparing for a mission trip and went to have my tires balanced and rotated. When I went to pick my car up, they didn't charge me anything :) These are just a few ideas that ran through my mind when I read this blog post

  2. Bama Psych, I'm glad you remember these happy surprises. There are studies that show that savoring the good experiences in life will make you a happier person.