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.