I was walking in downtown St. Catharines the other day, alone, carrying a coffee for myself and the friend that I’d be meeting. As I was crossing the street, a man approached me and asked if I could spare some change. As I waited for the light to turn, I handed him a dollar that I had in my pocket and continued on my way. He told me to have a nice day and I didn’t spare a second thought.
When I got home, however, I remembered the last time I’d done something like that, in a similar circumstance, except I was with a friend, and when I handed over my dollar they asked me why I did so. Not rudely or judgmentally, just out of genuine curiosity. At the time, I just shrugged as it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I didn’t need the dollar; I probably wouldn’t miss it. So I responded, “I don’t like to carry change.”
That wasn’t exactly true, I carry change all the time for coffee, bus fares and tip jars, but I was reluctant to tell my friend this. I gave him the change to be kind and I was embarrassed to let them see that. It’s easy to build walls, see the world through a cynical lens, and that’s what a lot of people do. Some take advantage of kindness, and it’s hard to not seem vulnerable as a result. I didn’t want my friend to think I was vulnerable in that way, I didn’t want to seem like I was wearing my heart on my sleeve.
A lot of us go through life looking out for ourselves and the people close to us, and that’s not bad. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t put yourself first, but I also think that genuine kindness is one of the best ways to fix the mess of the world we’ve found ourselves in.
When I say genuine kindness, I mean kindness that other people aren’t really supposed to see: Kindness that is not performative. Events like ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ day are inherently performative, you participate because you think you should, because you think someone will praise you for it. The kindness I am talking about is everyday small actions that only you and the person receiving them are supposed to see. Not rooted in some kind of social media challenge, or spiritual obligation, but an act of friendliness and humanity for no reason other than that is a good thing to do. Yes, I am aware that by writing this article, I am participating in the kind of performativity that I despise, but I promise that I don’t care if you think I’m kind or not.
I find it to be a sort of revolutionary act to care about other people, especially in a world that doesn’t seem to care about us most of the time. The world wants us to be cynical and build walls, to fight one another so that only the fittest survive, but when we are kind, we refuse to participate in that cycle, and we create a change, no matter how small.
It’s not that I felt an obligation to him because he was on the street, it’s that he asked for help and I was capable of giving it to him. I could have shook my head and scowled, walked past, pretended he didn’t exist, but I hope that if it was me or someone that I loved in the same position, that someone would help.
When people question the kindness of others, it confuses me. Kindness is not a weakness, despite the fact that we are told this almost constantly. It doesn’t make you gullible, or naive to give what you can to those who could use it. It’s not crazy to smile at people when you walk past them, or compliment a stranger who deserves it. I think it’s important to show little kids on the bus that there are kind adults in the world who’ll give up a seat so they can sit with their parent
I give a lot of my money away, and as a student, that might not be the smartest decision. I’m sure if I saved every dollar that I gave away, I could have a sizable chunk of change, but really, what would I do with it? The odds of me actually saving every loonie and toonie I ever receive are slim, as I’d probably just spend them on more coffee that I don’t need. At the end of the day, I think it’s more valuable to help people.
I’m not asking you to make the same choice I made, but I do ask you to respect it. To be patient with me when I take too long in the checkout line because I wanted to tell the cashier I liked her earrings. Don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I tip the barista with a five, or hand my change to someone who asks for it. I ask that if you have friends who also do these things, that you respect them. Don’t think about them as naive or weak.
If you want to, try it out. The world’s a lot less scary when we’re nice to each other.