Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kindness For Strangers -- Pass It On

Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- A Mérida friend recently benefited from an act of kindness on the part of a complete stranger. This got me thinking about the value of kindness and other unselfish traits as we celebrated American Thanksgiving last week.

When we celebrate Thanksgiving a lot of what we are thankful for, beyond perhaps good health and the presence of loved ones, comes to us because of the unselfish actions of others. Most of these are people whom we do not know or who passed away long before our time.

I'll backtrack for a moment. When we consider the damaged economy and environment, the numerous conflicts and most of the other negative stuff that is going on around the world, it is evident that these problems exist to a great degree due to the selfish actions of a certain percentage of people. This blot stains societies, business, organizations and governments.

It all comes down to individual responsibility. Most of the good that we have is the legacy of people who have thought of the whole rather than always "looking out for number one." If the vast majority of individuals always practiced kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion and consideration in their dealings with others, many of our problems would diminish as quickly a cloud of dust whipped up by a brief windstorm.

I've thought about many kind acts I benefited from last week as I prepared for a Thanksgiving trip to see my parents in Florida, including:

My neighbor Ingrid asked about my parents' frail health. Ingrid also gave me a rosary, which had been blessed in her church, to carry on my trip. She said that even though I am not Catholic and may not share her beliefs, it would be a source of comfort and a reminder that she is thinking about and praying for us. Ingrid and her late husband Alejandro were among my first friends in my Mérida neighborhood, and used to bring me plates of food when my house didn't have a working kitchen.

Victor, the most unselfish person I know, ran my errands and brought me take-out food when I got overwhelmed with "to-dos" as I prepared to leave town.

Tony took me out to breakfast and wished me well the day before my departure.

Doña Tere, owner of the cocina economica where I often eat told me with a smile, "Don't worry, pay me next time," when I realized, after eating, that I had walked out of the house without a peso in my pocket.

Margarita woke up and drove me in the early-morning darkness to the bus terminal to catch my ride to the Cancún airport.

This is the sort of kind and thoughtful behavior that enriches the texture of my everyday life in Mérida. A part of the regular interaction between friends and neighbors who appreciate and help each other, it is something I am thankful for. However the act of kindness I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the one that my friend Debbie wrote about recently was more significant, and I think more important, because in that case someone took time to help out a complete stranger.

Most of us can learn a lesson from the anonymous man who helped Debbie. The challenge is to enlarge our circle: to treat people we do not know with the same consideration, compassion, thoughtfulness and kindness we habitually reserve for family and friends. I think that receiving this expression of respect and love from strangers prompts people to return the favor. It builds upon itself.

At the very least, these acts make us, and hopefully someone else, feel good. The truth is that in helping others, we also help and fulfill ourselves. In a world where many things are not well and the problems make us feel ineffectual, this is something positive and concrete that we actually can do every single day. Like the beads on Ingrid's rosary, one following the other in an unending loop, the acts of human kindness passed on from stranger to stranger will make a difference.


  1. as John Lennon said, Imagine.

    I think that we can choose to see and remember the acts of kindness and leave behind the rudeness. It benefits us because life seems so much nicer and it inspires us to contribute the same.

  2. I couldn't agree more, Jonna. It seems like such an easy choice to make, but for some reason, many of us take a long time to figure that out. It took me quite a while, and I admit I am still working on it.

  3. So beautifully written. Thanks

  4. Thank you, Babs. It's always great to receive your comments. I hope you're keeping warm in SMA.

  5. Nice post, Marc, and so nicely written and so true. Life is all about choices.

    I have just moved into a new neighborhood in a new pueblo. In the evenings, when the people are all out on the sidewalks, I walk my doggie and smile and 'adios' everyone I come into contact with. As it evolves, I see a couple of folks that I think will be neighborhood friends and look forward to seeing them, visiting with them, and laughing at their teasings as I make my way around the village. Such fun.

  6. Wonderful post, Marc. For those of us still suffering from a language barrier, or for those of us who "look like" foreigners to begin with, these acts also say, "Welcome." (Or maybe I should say, "Welcome, anyway"?)

    When I become discouraged, these kindnesses override the frustration. I do know that I'll never leave, primarily because of the local civility and sharing you describe.

  7. Really nice post Marc. We are fortunate enough to experience the same in our neighborhood. We hope that you had a great Thanksgiving and that your parents are well.


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