the other end of the pen

Behind the stories in The Fraser Canyon Express

Random Acts of (Un)Kindness

Some years ago two university psychologists conducted a study, inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan. They met with a group of students from varying backgrounds and asked each one to prepare a short talk on a given theme. Then they would walk individually to a nearby building to present it. Along the way to the presentation each student would run into a man who was planted in an alley. He would be lying there, moaning & groaning in pain. The question was who would stop to help the man.
Also, the researchers wanted to find out if being in a hurry made any difference to the students. So they told one third of the group that they had plenty of time so they could take their time. Another third was told that they would just make it in time if they left right now. And the last third was told that they were already late-they’d better get moving immediately In other words, the experimenters put a third of their subjects in a “low hurry” situation; a third in an “intermediate hurry” situation; and a third in a “high hurry” situation.
So, which ones offered to help the man in pain? It turned out that it made no significant difference who the students were or where they came from. What did make a difference was how much of a hurry he was in. Of the “low hurry” subjects, 63% offered help; of the “intermediate hurry” subjects, 45% offered help; and of the “high hurry” students, only 10% offered help.
The experimenters concluded that the study would seem to indicate that bystander apathy is encouraged not only by the crowding in today’s world but also by the rush of big-city life as contrasted with the more leisurely pace of smaller towns.
I first wondered about the 37% who were not in a hurry but still did not stop to help the man, what were their reasons for not stopping? I would have liked to see that information published. I was also frankly very surprised by the last conclusion. Where did that come from? I wondered. How did they arrive at the assumption that big city dwellers were in more of a hurry than small town folk? And, the speculation that small town people were somehow kinder and more compassionate than urbanites, it’s a pleasant thought but how did they come up with that?
I must admit that two or three years ago , when I frosted my front page with rosy hued ruminations on the joys of small town living, after reading an article like this, I might have stood up and applauded and told you all to give yourselves a pat on the back, but not today.
Today I am jaded and disillusioned. May I ask you all, what has made us so angry at each other? I don’t mean “us”, as in Boston Bar citizens. I mean “us” as in fellow citizens of the world, “us” as in brothers and sisters in the family of Man.
Let me share with you a few incidents that occurred over the past several weeks to make me feel this way.
In the local coffee shop, the young waitress poured a man a cup of coffee. It was too full for him to fit in his cream and sugar, he glared at her and inquired as to her intellect.
“Are you stupid?” he asked, then dumped an inch of coffee in the garbage can, added his cream and sugar and continued on with his day. Just like that, he had insulted and abused a stranger without a second thought. Not an isolated incident either.
Next…. I’m sitting in my van waiting for my daughter outside of a corner store. Four men stand around a pick-up drinking take-out coffees. A man rides along on his bike with a six-pack on his handlebars. He hits a patch of ice and takes a dramatic headfirst dive to the sidewalk. The four men are so busy laughing that it is up to my 16-yr-old daughter to help him up and dust him off. I can only shake my head and wonder what the world is coming to.
Next…. here in town a gentleman lives in a small trailer parked in a pull out on the edge of town. He has no heat or power and could actually have frozen to death this winter. He is invited by a group of kindly town folk to move to a more central location where he can plug in for power. Now he can be warm at night and perhaps have a hot coffee in the morning before facing the day. Everyone is happy right? Nope, someone complained. His little home is an eyesore. He shouldn’t be allowed to park there on public property, and so on. This is the Christmas Season; for Christ’s sake show some compassion.
And then finally to cap it off, I become, “one of them”. After the recent snow storm the roads are narrow after a single pass of the plow, but do I practice what I preach and try to be patient and understanding? No, I succumb to road rage and flip a man the bird and glare at him out of my driver’s window. As I try to maneuver past him up Chaumox road I angrily make eye contact. I am jolted with guilt when I see a gentle smile as he mouths the word “sorry”. Holy cow, I instantly feel like an idiot and wish I could apologize.
Why do we abuse each other like this? Why do we persist in saying nasty things about each other? Why are we so angry? Whatever happened to Random Acts of Kindness Day at school and in the workplace?
I don’t know, but instead of taking it out on each other, there are healthy ways to vent stress and anger. Everyone needs to find what works for them. For me it is art, rock music, bubble baths and laughter. If the cases I’ve mentioned aren’t compelling enough to remind you to practice a little kindness, how about this; imagine that the waitress was your daughter or your wife. Imagine that the man on the bicycle was your brother. Imagine that the man in the trailer is your dad.
Goodwill does not just mean giving old clothes to charity; it means taking care of each other and being considerate and kind. Take a moment and breathe before you react, it might prevent you from ruining your, or someone else’s, day.

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