Which character attribute do you prize most in the people with whom you associate?
Honesty? Loyalty? Compassion? Patience? Generosity?
All worthy candidates, beyond a shadow of a doubt. But for me, one character trait stands heads and shoulders above the rest:
KINDNESS. Pure, simple, unadulterated kindness.
The effects of even the smallest act of kindness can be significant and far-reaching. Think back to the last time that you were the recipient of a selfless act. Seriously, take a few seconds right here, right now. How were you feeling before and how did you feel after? Chances are that small act of kindness changed the very course of your day.
My life has been immeasurably blessed by the benevolence of friends, family, work colleagues and acquaintances but surely there is nothing more touching and nothing that restores your faith in humanity more than the kindness of a complete and utter stranger. When we serve our friends and family there is often an expectation of something in return (whether we choose to acknowledge it or not!) but when we come to the rescue of someone we do not know and likewise, when a perfect stranger assists us in times of hardship and distress there cannot be any expectation of something in return and as such these acts are the very epitome of altruism. Pure, simple, unadulterated kindness.
I want to tell you about the time when a perfect stranger came to my rescue. Literally. Without his assistance I might still be standing outside Terminal 2 at Heathrow airport. Ok, so I exaggerate. I would have made it back home somehow but what I’m not exaggerating is the relief and gratitude I felt as a result of his actions.
Last summer, as you know if you’ve been following this here blog, I spent a few weeks backpacking around the tropical paradise that is Costa Rica. It’s not cheap, Costa Rica. In fact, it’s probably one of the most expensive countries I’ve visited to date. Keep that in mind should you ever go and budget accordingly. I didn’t. And as a result of poor financial planning and going on one too many horse treks through banana and coffee plantations I ended up in a bit of a pickle upon my return to Heathrow.
Craigy Boy couldn’t come to pick me up since he was at work so the plan was for me to catch the bus from Heathrow to Oxford and then friends would pick me up in Oxford. Simples. I put my card into the cash machine to withdraw the requisite amount for the bus ticket and… nada. Not a penny. It would seem that me and Costa Rica had maxed out this particular card. Not to worry. I had a spare. Oh wait a minute, GW, that’ll be the credit card that’s floating around somewhere on the remote island of Tortuguero, the one that you lost and had to cancel. DAMMIT! I still wasn’t panicking by this stage, however. I’m the kind of person that freaks out BEFORE a crisis takes place but in the very midst of one I can be quite the oasis of calm I’ll have you know. I like me a problem to solve.
Next step: call the Oxford Bus Company. That within itself was problematic since my phone had conked out in the first few days of arriving in Costa Rica (couldn’t handle the tropical heat I imagine) and I didn’t have any loose change. And in any case, do pay phones still exist?? I can’t remember the last time I saw one…
I scanned the faces of passers by - I was looking for a kindly one, preferably one with a phone in his/her hand. BINGO! A kindly looking man with mobile directly ahead! Normally I would attempt to dazzle with my female charm and the flirtatious batting of eyelids but after 16 hours of travel and 30mg of valium the sexy card wasn’t an option. Instead, I walked towards him with the biggest, roundest, most beseeching eyes I could muster.
I explained my predicament and asked if I could possibly borrow his phone to call the bus company. Despite his phone being registered to Dubai (he was working over there on business) he did not hesitate to let me use it. He was my new best friend already! I wish I could say the same for the lady over at the Oxford Bus Company. She informed me in no uncertain terms that I would not be able to board the bus without paying for the ticket in advance. Company Policy. Maybe she hadn’t heard what I said so I explained again. I reiterated that I had friends meeting me at the other end in Oxford and that they would bring the money to pay for the ticket. Turns out she had heard me perfectly well and that my plight was of little significance to her and the Oxford Bus Company. Shame on you lady and shame on you OBC!! At this point I was becoming tearful. I hung up on that snotty lady, exhausted and frustrated. I get that there are rules and regulations to adhere to but I also believe in exceptions to the rule and assessing each situation individually. In my eyes the world is not back and white.
I’d almost forgotten about my new friend whose mobile phone I was clutching in my trembling hand. As I turned around to face him he was pulling some bank notes out of his wallet. “How much do you need?”,£20 I told him whilst assuring him that I was a very honest person and that if he could leave me some way to get back in touch with him I would make sure the money was in his account the very next day. No need, he said, as he handed me TWO £20 notes and went on his way. For a few seconds I stood there rooted to the ground, unable to take in what had just transpired. And then I could hold it in no longer. I ran wildly after my kind benefactor yelling “WAAAAAIT!!!” at the top of my voice. He did stop and wait - as did a few other terrified people in the vicinity - and I flung my arms around him, unable to stop the tears from flowing. I told him that he was the kindest man that ever was. He smiled (uncomfortably - I was still wrapped around his waist) and insisted it was nothing. I released my vice like grip and we parted ways. Two strangers briefly united by a random act of kindness.
The thing is, Warriors, kindness begets kindness. In the same way that a pebble creates ripples when thrown into a pond our acts of service, no matter how small, can produce their own waves which continue to spread outwards, uplifting and edifying the lives of others.
Some people say it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. I don’t agree. I think it’s a beautiful world out there, a world full of good, kind, warm-hearted people, people like you and me. We have the capacity to bring such joy, happiness and light into the lives of our fellow human beings if we’re ready and willing.
So let’s be ready and willing, my Warriors of the World, let us go forth this very week and keep our eyes and hearts open for the opportunity to be a force for good.
And to you, my perfectly kind and perfect stranger at Heathrow, I want you to know that I think of you often and continue to try and pay your kindness forward.