This is a guest post by my friend and fellow road tripper Kara Perez.
There’s a line that’s been bouncing around in my head for the past few months. Tennessee Williams wrote it for his play A Streetcar Named Desire. The line reads: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.
The play is technically a tragedy, but that line is a triumph. The kindness of strangers is a whole world of kindness. And to have always depended on it means that the kindness has always been there. What a wonderful thought – that people have been kind since forever, and that the kindness is always available somehow.
2016 has been a tough year. Prince and David Bowie died, Americans lost their minds in the presidential election, and Brexit shocked the world. Yet I find that the kindness of strangers is alive and well. In fact, because 2016 has been so hard, I think kindness might be thriving in certain ways.
The odds are stacked against kindness, at least in the US. I won’t pretend that the US was a utopia before November 8th, because we all know that’s not true. But ever since the election, we can’t hide from our problems. They’re front and center on the world stage.
On top of the political and social maelstrom, let’s just be honest. It’s hard to be kind all the time! Humans are flawed. When we’re tired, mad, jealous, or hell, even just hungry, it can be really hard to be kind to our peers. Especially strangers to whom we have no emotional attachment.
If you just read the news, you might think my recalling the line from A Streetcar Named Desire was madness. Clearly, hate has taken over. Clearly, anger is winning. Show it to me, you’d say. Show me the kindness.
I can. I can show you the kindness. Here’s one example: On my four-week road trip earlier this fall, I ran into some car problems. Nothing too serious, but enough to make me break down and cry in a mechanic’s shop in Idaho.
See, my check engine light simply wouldn’t go away. The light came on two hours out of my home city on my first day, and it stayed on the whole trip. This, despite me putting $600 worth of repairs into my car before I left.
That first day, I pulled over to a gas station and approached two men to ask if they would take a look at my engine. They spent about an hour looking it over, topping off my coolant for me, and walking me through common problems with small cars. One even gave me his business card and told me to call if I got into more car trouble down the road. They were total sweethearts about it, and I was so thankful to them both for their time and help.
That encounter jump-started four weeks of strangers being kind to me. As I wound my way through the Western United States, I encountered kindness all over the place:
- I met up with activist Taté Walker in Phoenix, and she let me use her shower while she picked her daughter up from school. We had met a mere hour before, and she opened up her house to me so I could wash the eau de camping right off of me.
- Ms. Our Next Life graciously gave me her extra snacks at FinCon, knowing I was on a long trip and a tight budget.
- My friend C. in Portland gave me her bed to sleep in, and snuggled up with her sister while I was in town. (I would have taken the couch, I swear!)
- A fellow blogger made me coffee and let me use her home as a workspace for a few hours while I was in San Francisco.
These are all small acts of kindness. As the one receiving the kindnesses, I can tell you that these little things each made a huge difference in my day. Each act made me think ‘wow, what a wonderful person. This is so nice of them.’ I left the San Francisco bloggers’ home happy, upbeat, and excited to wander around SF, all caffeinated up. I enjoyed Ms. ONL’s snacks on my drive up the California coast.
Each act made me want to be kinder. Not only did I want to repay these people for their lovely gifts to me, but I also wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to keep the kindness train running! The more kindness I experienced, the kinder I wanted to be to others.
Be kind to someone, and they are more likely to be kind to someone else. I mean, this is literally science: happiness makes you kind, and kindness makes you happy.
Last week, I gave a homeless woman a dollar. I had it to give, and she needed it much more than I do. It’s a small gesture, yes. But the money was given in the spirit of the kindness I’ve been a recipient of for the last few months. I know that small things add up to big things. I know that one act can stay with someone for days at a time.
The kindness of strangers is out there, fighting the good fight. Kindness hasn’t lost to cynicism or hatred. Kindness has not been eradicated by cruelty.
Kindness has inspired me to be kinder in my everyday life. It’s my hope that calling attention to kindness will help it blossom in even more lives. Go be a source of kindness for people you interact with. Be the nicest person on your bus. Be the sweetie pie in line at the coffee shop. Be the honey bear in the office.
Throw kindness around like confetti in your life. It is there, waiting to be thrown. Kindness is always there.
Kara Perez is a freelance writer. She blogs over at fromfrugaltofree.com, and is starting a new company to connect and empower women with money. She lives for peanut butter and is eternally unorganized.