Forming Links

Thanks to Chris and Paisley, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness this week.

What has struck me is how frequently one sees an act of unkindness being perpetrated and how those acts of unkindness have a potency that almost overshadow any subsequent acts of kindness we may witness.

There is a sense of outrage when one experiences rudeness, selfishness or cruelty. We say to ourselves-  Why does it have to be this way? Why is disregard a force more easily summoned than courtesy? Why is it easier to walk on by than it is to help a person who has fallen? Why? Why? Why?

I experienced three acts of unkindness today which upset me and not one of those acts was directed at me. 

The first act happened when I was walking to the shops this morning to get the weekend papers. An elderly lady was walking across the pedestrian crossing, very slowly (she had a cane) and a young idiot in a car was waiting for her to cross with his hand on the horn. It blared and blared, scaring her so that she stumbled, nearly dropping her cane. Well, I have had a bad week, and one of my particular pet hates is people who don’t respect the elderly, so I immediately ran out onto the crossing and stood in front of the idiot’s car. And yes, I eyeballed him. He immediately got all riled up and started shouting obscenities out the window. But very quickly a number of people joined me on the crossing, blocking his way. This show of community spirit surprised me but as one man said as we moved off the crossing (I mean, we had to let him drive away at some stage, didn’t we?): ‘I am sick and tired of all the dickheads in this world.’ My sentiments, exactly.

The second act of unkindness occurred at the supermarket. The lady three people ahead of me in the queue dropped her shopping as she was leaving. Oranges, sultanas and a kilo of brussels sprouts rolled across the floor, blocking everyone’s exit. It was a deluge of  fruit and veg.

The guy immediately behind the woman started complaining in a really strident voice that he didn’t have time for this, that he was in a hurry, that someone needed to get all the spilled produce out of his way. The woman was embarrassed and hurriedly began to pick up her discarded shopping, but she had nothing to put it in so she kept dropping it. I grabbed a bag from the counter and began to repack it. Everyone else in the queue but the complaining man followed suit. In under a minute we had her repacked and out the door. The complaining man’s only response was to look at his watch.

The third act of unkindness occurred when Nick and I were at a different set of shops in a neighbouring suburb. When we went into the bakery there was a busker singing merrily outside the butcher’s. By the time we emerged he had stopped, his head in his hands.

This shopping strip is not traditionally an area for busking but the guy really wasn’t doing any harm. When Nick went to ask him why he had stopped, the busker told him someone had spat on him moments before and had told him to get a job. Nick was outraged, told him to keep playing, and threw some money in his pot. Several other passers by also threw in their loose change.

So what I’m wondering is – does immediately responding to an unkind act with a kind one counteract the original display of unkindness? And if so, is the process of counteracting contagious, and is that why so many people join in?

The things I saw today upset me but also cheered me. Because I think in our heart of hearts we all rage against unkindness and it doesn’t take as much effort as we think to form links to a kinder world.

20 thoughts on “Forming Links

  1. what i find heartening in this story selma,, is that in each instance there was one bad apple and several sweet delicious ones… and as anyone who is anyone knows,, bad apples rot from the inside out…

    imagine life with the rotten core necessary to produce those outbursts?? what a miserable existence that must be…


  2. My dear Selma, your actions warm my heart and give me hope!

    I spend a great deal of my time every day restraining the urge to smack the crap out of the horn blaring idiots, the watch tapping self-important creeps, and the smug judgmental “better-than-you” a-holes. I have glared down my share of them, but unfortunately have not been joined by my fellow citizens.

    The older I get the less patient I become with this behavior, and the sadder I get that the collective “we” puts up with this kind of behavior, ignores it, are afraid of getting involved.

    Thank you for standing up to the a-holes in your part of the world. I pray your selfless and brave actions inspire the rest of us to do the same.

    Sagacious Woman


  3. I must agree with both Paisley and Sagacious Woman, and I’d like to add that you and your son are very brave and good people to stand up for the underdog. We need to stand up to bullies and a-holes more often, then perhaps they will start to get the picture that their actions aren’t going to make things better, nor will they be tolerated any longer.


  4. I agree with Paisley. There was one ‘bad guy’ in each of the stories but several others who were just waiting for their opportunity to be ‘the good guys’. I hate cruelty and unkindness, no matter who it’s directed at: people, animals, even property and objects. This was a message of hope Selma, not despair. We can’t change the world but we can change our own little world and be a good example to others. You certainly were, in these instances. 🙂


  5. Kindness is so easy, if only more people would give it a try. Not only does it make someone else feel good but they might be surprised at how good it would make them feel too. You are a shining example for Nick and I’m glad he is following your lead without prompting. He’s a good boy and you are a wonderful human being and mother 🙂


  6. Seems to me there were enough acts of kindness in this post to make up for it.

    It’s odd we were talking about this last night. The Man’s dad has Parkinson and when he is out, from time to time he falls. He’s been lucky and usually the kindness of strangers wins out (we got him a cell phone to get help now.) But we know of another man, who fell in downtown Toronto and people just walked around him. Not willing to stop their busy days to help him… and it makes me sad…


  7. I will have to totally agree with Gypsy, as I was reading your post I was thinking of what a good soul you are and you must be a really great mom. Nick is so lucky to have you as a mother and a great example of how we should all behave towards other people. If only people were nicer to each other, then maybe the world would be a nicer and safer place to live in.


  8. Oh Selma, you make the world a better place… There seems to be a lot of posts around about common decency and how we can make sure it stays alive. Maybe the tide is turning?


  9. I’m sorry but I must be missing something here.

    I’ve read your post three times, Selma, and all I can see is three acts of kindness… perhaps the aura of those have washed away the negative. As kindness tends to do.


  10. Good Evening Selma. It’s just as easy to smile as it is to frown. It’s just as easy to be kind and thoughtful as it is to be hurtful and thoughless, or, at least that’s the way I wish the world was. Since it isn’t, it’s a good thing we have people like you to keep people like that well-described “a**hole” behind the horn, down a peg or two. I’m with you along with all the others who have commented on your experiences.


  11. Those are awful! But it still goes to show that the unkind population is still in the great minority and will always be on the losing end.

    I remember when I moved to San Francisco long time ago. I held a city map while trying to get acquainted with the streets. I overheard a couple sneering in sarcasm, saying how a map makes you look dumb. A mere second later, another couple came to my defense by giving them a well deserved verbal beating – after which I snickered and went on my merry way.


  12. PAISLEY – I just can’t imagine how tied up in knots a person would have to be to consistently be that nasty. Your analogy of the bad apples and the sweet delicious ones is perfect!

    SAGACIOUS WOMAN – I used to turn a blind eye to that sort of thing, thinking:’What can I do about it?’ Even though it bothered me I used to walk away. But now I just can’t take it anymore. I am like you and wonder why we can’t just treat each other with a bit of respect? I suspect I am on a bit of a mission at the moment.

    KAREN – we always try to stick up for the underdog, I guess because we frequently feel like underdogs ourselves. It is amazing how many people will join in if given a push. I take heart from that, I really do.

    GERALDINE – and maybe by changing our own little part of the world there will be a cumulative effect which will change a larger part of the world. You just never know. Hope is a powerful tool.

    GYPSY – I do try to be a good example although I will admit to having an abundance of bad habits which I’m sure he’s picked up on. But nobody’s perfect, right? I agree with you, kindness is easy. We should give it a try as much as possible.

    NAT – oh no. Oh, that is awful. That poor man. I hope that never happens to your father-in-law. It’s so upsetting, isn’t it? What were those people thinking?

    TBALL – Exactly. It would become better overnight. I hope it does happen one day. Sooner rather than later.

    BEC – I think the tide is turning. People are sick of things the way they are, aren’t they? Wouldn’t it be nice if things changed in our lifetime?

    BEAR – wouldn’t that be brilliant if it were true? I certainly hope it is. How marvellous.

    MARY – Good Evening, dear Mary. So nice to hear from you. It IS just as easy to smile as it is to frown. I’m going to try it as often as I can. Visits from you really help!

    CHRIS – I hope they traveled to an unfamiliar place one day and lost their way. Would’ve served them right. Honestly, the things some people go on about. Sounds like you had some lovely people coming to your defense, however.


  13. >>the busker told him someone had spat on him moments before and had told him to get a job.<<

    Way to go, Nick!

    I bet the garbage-brained knuckle-dragger who did the spitting (may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits) couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

    I like hearing buskers … some are serious music students, trying to earn a bit of beer money; some just do it for the joy of it. And, some of them go on to greater things, even become household names (Hayley Westenra springs immediately to mind)

    I hope this guy goes on to make his name … and remembers you, and drops you free tickets for his concerts now and again.


  14. TRAVELRAT – I couldn’t believe someone spat on him. It really is so nasty, isn’t it? If the busker were to go onto greater things it truly would be poetic justice. I do hope so.


  15. I think there is a reason some of us witness unkind acts. I would have done exactly as you with the elderly woman – without a second thought. I think when we behave in a manner that contradicts that vile energy, it transmutes it into something positive that is far more powerful.

    It breaks my heart when I see anyone – human or animal – in any kind of pain. There is a line of thought that says the people who inflict pain onto others are, in fact, deeply in pain themselves. They cannot understand anything but their own pain – and cannot help but inflict that pain onto others.

    That said, your kindnesses and that of those who joined you are in the majority. I truly believe that. You are a special soul, Selma.


  16. I’m with Bear; the lovely kindnesses you describe here far outweigh the meanness that each incident began with. I’m sure those people all felt better after having met you and the others who joined in to help.

    I enjoy buskers too. We have some very talented people in Melbourne CBD, but I’m also reminded of the months I spent working in Chester in northern England, and also in London, where the variety of the buskers was just amazing. One was a very young woman dwarfed by her cello, but she played with such earnest skill. Just this past week a busker at our local shopping centre made me feel like I was wandering through the streets of Paris for a moment. I know I’ll start worrying if the usual spots are silent for too long.


  17. EPIPHANY – oh, those who inflict pain are definitely in pain themselves. I guess they feel that if they make someone else hurt, they will hurt less themselves. But of course, it doesn’t quite work like that. And regarding special souls? It takes one to know one.

    DAOINE – I am a huge fan of buskers too. I used to busk in my late teens and early 20s (sometimes while traveling through Europe) and it was brilliant. However, you do have to steel yourself for the knocks and the heckling. It can be tough, but mostly it is rewarding and a great way to meet people.


  18. THE GROCER – wouldn’t that be brilliant. You know, I think you are on to something here. So nice of you to stop by!

    DAOINE – I used to sing a play guitar. Lots of folk, blues, popular stuff. I am a mean fingerpicker when I have to sing for my supper!


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