Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Frosted rose bloom in my garden
Rosa 'The Fairy' kissed by last night's first hard frost of the season - at least I know she'll bloom again 

Dee told a story recently on her blog about meeting a stranger from Persia, which has stayed with me ever since. It's good to be reminded that simple acts of kindness are much more powerful on a personal level than anything the news can throw at us. Thanks Dee.

It sparked a memory of something that happened to me many years ago, so here's my story...

Graduation during a recession means even the best laid plans can go off track. So in the early 1980's I found myself back at home with my parents instead of forging the glittering career I'd anticipated by being the first in my family to study at university.

The work ethic is strong in our family, so I took whatever temporary jobs I could find to tide things over until my dozens of permanent job applications bore fruit. I never doubted that would happen, and finally it did, even though the result isn't quite the path I originally thought I'd take.

One of my temporary jobs was as a census officer, taking round and collecting in the questionnaire UK households are required to complete every 10 years. My allocated patch was a 10 minute bus ride away and consisted of a council estate of maisonettes and high-rise flats, plus some university accommodation allocated to postgraduate students. It turned out to be quite a cross-section of humanity.

I quickly learned the role of a census officer is a lonely and thankless task. You never meet any of your colleagues and the majority of people I met regarded me with suspicion and open hostility. I was a 'government snooper', rather than a young woman trying to make her way in life.

Towards the end of my stint, I was going around the remaining addresses left on my round where I'd had no contact with the people living there. Many of these were in the university accommodation and as it was now the Easter holidays I was not expecting to collect many more of the outstanding questionnaires. I was not finding it the most rewarding of tasks, and I quickly became tired and grumpy.

To my surprise, one of my last rings on the doorbell was answered by a young man dressed in flowing robes. Whilst his English was good, it was clear he would need help to complete my alien-sounding form. I was invited in and greeted by his smiling wife, who offered me some orange juice as I sat down.

It turned out to be freshly squeezed orange juice, something not readily available in England at that time. My spirits were lifted instantly and I stumbled out my thanks at being offered something so delicious.

"It is the tradition of my country to offer guests something refreshing when they enter the house", was the young man's reply. We soon turned our attention to the information I needed, and I duly entered 'Syria' in the appropriate place on the form.

I can still remember clearly that couple from Syria and their brief kindness some 30+ years later. I cannot remember any of the hundreds of people I met in those six or so weeks who greeted me with hostility and suspicion.

I read somewhere recently about a survey where people who'd been treated kindly said they were more likely to perform an act of kindness themselves, and to do it more than once. Perhaps the solution to many of the world's problems is in our own hands after all.

18 comments:

  1. It would certainly be worth a try wouldn't it? Let's all do some random acts of kindness and see where it leads - it certainly won't make things any worse will it?!

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    1. And it's something we can all do too, rather than feeling helpless about the situation :)

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  2. Thank you for this lovely thought and frame of mind. I really appreciate it. Best wishes from Astrid in Philadelphia, PA.

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    1. Thanks Astrid and welcome to Veg Plotting :)

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  3. Michelle, I love your story. We're all just people sharing the same planet. There are a few apples, but most people are truly kind and giving. I'm so glad i got to read this first thing this morning. Thank you. It was just what I needed. ~~Dee

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    1. Thanks Dee, and thanks for providing the inspiration with your story. I've revisited my memory several times this week as a result, so I knew I had to write it down :)

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  4. Great story, Michelle. If we would all treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, the world would be a kinder, more peaceful place.

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    1. Thanks Helen - and with today's dreadful news I'm even more convinced this is the way forward. We all have one thing in common, we're all people and we need to talk to each other more. How ironic I'm saying this on social media!

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  5. Such a simple kindness and it meant so much. Thank you for sharing this story!

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    1. Thanks Gail, it doesn't take much to make an impact does it?

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  6. What a wonderful story, VP; thanks so much for sharing this! Like Dee's story, your story reminds me that while we can't solve the world's problems by ourselves, we can each start by being kinder to all those we meet. If everyone did this, imagine what a better world this would be.

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    1. Thanks Rose, you've got it in one. I meant to say on Helen's reply how touched I was by the friendliness of everyone in Canada. I've been mindful of that since we got home and it's a natural extension to what this story is all about.

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  7. Made me smile today, Michelle! Thank-you!!

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    1. You're welcome Barbara - lovely to have you visit here :)

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  8. When I was teaching i always greeted parents with a smile and found that it diffused many a difficult discussion

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    1. Good idea - a smile makes everyone feel better :)

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  9. Such a lovely cheerful story, made me smile too. I met a planning officer today. I wasn't looking forward to the meeting. But I went in there all cheerful and smiley. I thought there would be trouble. But I quietly listened and kept smiling and hoping. At the end- we got the resolution we wanted. Thank goodness. x

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    1. That's great news Karen. It shows that a smile goes a long way :)

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