Fact: Humanity is a synonym for kindness
When I first went to London in 1994, it was Christmas time, I was 20, and on my own. One day, on the tube, I sat down opposite a lady in her seventies who was sitting alone. She looked up at me and I looked her in the eye and smiled. Would you believe that she started crying, reached out to squeeze my arm, and said, ‘God bless you.’
Her reaction tugged at my heart strings, and I struggled to hold back the tears for the rest of the journey while I thought about the ramifications of that moment.
She didn’t want anything from me. She had no ulterior motive or agenda. She simply needed to see a shadow of humanity in a city full of people.
At that time, I was still suffering from my own crippling depression, and the encounter made me so sad for her (and society). Was it so rare for a stranger to notice her and offer her something as simple (but valuable) as a smile?
That was 1994. On the cusp of the mobile phone and Internet revolution. When people only had newspapers and books to isolate themselves and hide behind. The social landscape is unrecognisable now in that sense. Now we have a plethora of screens that double as our own human shields and people partitions. Now we don’t even have to pretend to hide, because we don’t even have to look up anymore.
Which begs the question. Why don’t we want to look up? Are we afraid? Do we literally not give a shit? And if it is fear, then perhaps we need to ponder how powerful (and by extension, disempowering/destructive) that fear becomes when it is part of a collective fear. If we’re all struggling with individual fear, then what is the result of our collective fear? Would it be fair to say that our collective fear is manifesting negatively in a global sense?
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that I’m guilty of hiding behind my screen. In fact, I do it everyday. I don’t have much in common with the people in my physical vicinity, and that screen keeps me fairly sane if I’m completely honest. But that’s my micro-micro-environment-a space where I’ve assessed who and what I want to avoid. What I’m inferring to in this post is the larger picture. Am I still the kind of human who will smile at a lonely stranger? Am I still the kind of human who will help someone up after they’ve fallen? Am I the kind of human who gives seconds chances? Is my individual fear detracting from that thing that makes me human?
Back to my original story now. Perhaps, in 2017, our screens have made us less lonely than we were in 1994? Perhaps not? But what about our humanity/kindness? Have we advanced beyond the point where smiling at a stranger is a revolutionary act of kindness/humanity? I’m not sure. But it’s worth thinking about it, don’t you think?
Until next time,