Friday, May 14, 2010

And Human Kindness

Barbara: Since your post, Deb, about the Human Spirit, I’ve been thinking a lot about Human Kindness.

Do you ever wonder if maybe there would be more acts of kindness if people had a set of rules they HAD to follow? You know, a “Human Manual” with instructions to help you cope when things go awry. Something like: if someone collapses in front of you, you 1) approach them 2) find out if they’re okay 3) if they’re not okay, call 911 or get someone else to call. Or something to that effect.

I know this is probably second-nature to the kinds of people who read this blog, but I can’t help having a sort of wild faith in those people you hear about (or see on video surveillance footage) who walk past that guy who’s writhing on the street. What if it’s that they just DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO and not that they don’t have it in their hearts to DO SOMETHING? Maybe for them it’s a terrible moment of panic and impotence instead of apathy. Maybe our fight or flight response also applies to our reactions in the face of other people’s adversity (whether it’s witnessing a crime or hearing that a friend has cancer—and either responding like a mensch or slinking away and ignoring it).

And I think this division between those for whom kindness is easy and those for whom it needs to be learned can be found around the world, regardless of personal history. And KIND people generally outnumber cheek-turning, mean-talking, need-to-consult-a-Human-Manual Apathetics.

Recently, I heard from my cousin who’s peacekeeping in Afghanistan and he told me that the locals there have no desire to fight, but just want to live their lives and feed their children. Most of them go about their days showing respect and hospitality to both “sides”. It reminded me that no matter what our backgrounds, we have so MUCH in common. And our expansive love and kindness can be found even in the least fertile places.  

After all, it’s like that scientist said: there is greater diversity in the DNA of a handful of snails than there is in the entire human race!

We are (or can be) so much better than our press would have us believe.


  1. I think you make a good point. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part. But I do think that maybe people don't get involved because they panic, or they're scared.

    Maybe we aren't an apathetic society. Maybe we have a fear of not knowing what to do, or that we'll do something to make the situation worse.

  2. I really feel like I'm leaning toward this concept. Sure, there is apathy. But I really think it's more the exception than the rule -- it just gets way more press-time than kindness.

    And I think fear is very much a deciding factor in most situations -- for both the reasons you mention, Megan. I think most of us can relate to our best intentions sometimes being subverted by fear of doing the wrong thing.

  3. Megan I agree with you. I think basically we are all good. But I do think fear kicks in for sure. I would be so afraid for example if someone was really hurt that one wrong move by me would hurt or kill them. But thank heaven for cell phones. I was just thinking, I wonder how many lives are saved each week as a result of having 911 in the palm of our hands?

  4. So true! Some of us act, and some of us freeze, when there is a crisis. Sadly I'm one of the latter. If I can think of what to do, I'll do it, but otherwise ...

  5. This was actually the topic of a major discussion in my psychology class back in high school. It's called the "bystander effect" (if you're unfamiliar with the case of Kitty Genovese, I'd suggest doing a search on Wikipedia). Basically it states that the average person, when they witness something horrible (i.e. a murder), will assume that someone else will deal with it (for example by calling 911). This is especially true in situations where there are multiple witnesses, which is why nearly 40 people can witness a murder in the middle of New York City without a single one of them calling the police.

    I agree with the sentiment that fear is foremost in causing this. For me, it would mostly be fear of either not knowing what to do, or in some cases fear of getting involved with someone else's business. Very introverted that way, I guess.

  6. Another great post. Three years ago a beautiful mildly autistic girl had just started her first job in life with Home Depot. As she was walking home from work, some moron pulled her into a nearby park and murdered her. She apparently screamed so loudly that many of the occupants of a nearby housing complex heard. The police asked them all, "Why in heaven's name, didn't you call 911" and the general response was, We thought someone else would do it." I find that a sorry state of affairs as how can you "assume" when a life could be in jeopardy? I'm not saying these people were bad but I really do think there is a "lazy" factor at play here as well.

    Barbara, I think you may have something there about the press.

    As for those poor Afghanis. What an insane world we live in.

  7. Rosina, that was a painful story but it spoke to our human fear. Or did it speak to apathy? Or did it speak to that specific group of people, that particular combination of souls that turned away? Would another combination of people have all rushed to the phone each and every one? Which brings us back it luck?

  8. If we look at apathy the way a benevolent but loving mom might look at her angsty teen, then what would we say to ourselves and others when we turn away instead of reaching out? "Good on ya" or "Better luck next time" or even "You're a no-good loser"? I think we would tell ourselves that it's not about US all the time (so who cares if we don't do it "right") -- and that what we need to do is very simple: reach out. Helping takes a few moments in our lives that we will never regret.

  9. you know, i posted something gushy and intelligent to this blog post and it didn't take. apparently, your blog only accepts my goofy, snarky, moronic comments.

    (this was a lovely post).

  10. Trying the pop-up window for all those having trouble posting comments. Fingers crossed...

  11. explain to people why im just responding with cake.

    never mind. I just like cake. one never needs a reason.

    (lovely blog post, btw).


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