A friend of mine told me a story the other day. He was walking from his office to the Go-Train in downtown Toronto. Being a bit preoccupied with the events in his day he was surprised to suddenly notice a man lying on the street (which had been blocked off for construction). The man had what looked like a pool of blood by his head and was lying motionless.
He set down his briefcase and knelt beside him. "Are you okay?" he asked, concerned. "Can I help you?"
The man opened his eyes, a big smile spread over his face as he sat up and grabbed the 'fake' pool of blood. "Thank you!" he said. "I've been lying here for an hour and a half and you are the first person to stop."
I suppose it was a psychology experiment about the diffusion of responsibility. The more people there are around, the less likely any single individual will take responsibility. It's the reason why restaurants automatically include a tip for groups of 10 or more. Studies have shown that people generally default to the belief that 'someone else will do it."
My friend has a busy schedule and had the man needed his help, he would have missed his train and messed up his evening plans. He was not equipped to rescue people, nor was he looking for heroic opportunities. Even so, he did not assume that one of the many passers-by had already called 911. He did not wonder about his personal safety. He didn't think "oh well, I'm sure someone not dressed in a good suit will give him a hand." He simply noticed another human being in need, felt compassion, and reached out.
Two things stand out to me in this story. One is that it is very sad to live in a culture where we feel afraid or indifferent to the extent that a man can lie in a pool of 'blood' for 90 minutes while hundreds of people walk by. The second thing is that someone DID stop. There are good people who truly care and the beautiful thing is that it's contagious. That man was no doubt a tad disheartened as he lay there on the cold pavement, aware of the passing of time and people. But what a relief when someone finally stopped and asked "Can I help you?" His hope in humanity was restored. His own capacity for kindness renewed.
When we show kindness to someone, it is win/win/win. Have you noticed that? We feel good. The recipient feels good. And the person to whom the recipient 'pays it forward' will feel good.
So my challenge for you is this. Look for someone to whom you can show kindness. You may not stumble across a man lying in a pool of blood, but you might come across a grumpy sales clerk. Or a rude delivery boy. Or an irritating co-worker. And wouldn't it be cool to be the one to soften their day with a bit of kindness? Smile genuinely at the sales clerk and look for a way to authentically compliment her. Look the delivery boy in the eye, tell him you appreciate his work and tip him extra. Buy your co-worker a coffee and tell them you hope they have a great day.
If you can't do that? If you just don't have it in you because you are too tired, too miserable, too anxious, too fearful, too self-conscious, too useless, too preoccupied / annoyed with your own 'stuff'... then I would recommend that you talk to someone about it. Showing kindness is a truly wonderful experience that you deserve to participate in. Talk to a friend. See a counselor. Make an appointment with a therapist. Call me.
I can help.