Daily Prompt: Moments of kindness

I have such a low expectation for kindness. I think that comes from years of being a physical and emotional punching-bag for bullies. Normal polite behavior seems kind to me.

When I moved to New Jersey from my southern home 27 years ago, I was “instructed” by my husband in the various rules of New Jersey etiquette. He admonished me if I spoke to a stranger on the street or made eye contact with someone while passing by. I got the impression that speaking to strangers is just not acceptable behavior. But he was one of the most outgoing personalities that I had ever known. So he never practiced what he preached. I think he was just more concerned for my safety but I had no naivete about dealing with people.

I don’t think people here are as anti-social as others are led to believe. Kindness produces kindness.

In spite of my shyness, I ignored Richard’s advice and said hello or waved to strangers that I passed on the street. The grouchy neighbors couldn’t be too grouchy if I was nice to them. And the store cashiers were pleasant when I smiled and spoke to them. Perhaps a smile from one customer can cancel out a few transactions with the unpleasant ones.

Now I’m on my own and during my daily walks to local stores, when I see an approaching stranger, I think of the caution I was taught and wonder, “do I avert my eyes and pretend I don’t see them?” or “do I take the risk of saying hello?” It seems like an experiment to see what will happen if I choose to be friendly. I initiate the hello half of the time and am happy when the other person speaks first. I imagine they are just as surprised to receive a smile and a hello.

It seems silly to consider a simple greeting a kindness, but it makes my day just a little better. I hope it has the same effect on the other person.

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4 Responses to Daily Prompt: Moments of kindness

  1. weggieboy says:

    I trained at Fort Monmouth, NJ in early 1970. At the same time, a friend lived on West 8th in NYC, and I arranged to visit him.

    I arrived in the city, clearly and out-of-towner. You, know, I was the one with the butch army haircut who couldn’t stop looking up at the buildings! I was a guy from a small town in Western Nebraska unaware of his vulnerability.

    Walking down West 8th, I saw a group of six or seven rough looking guys. They stood around some parked motorcycles, and had an urban quality about them that was softened by the presence of a German shepherd “teenager” dog.

    “Wow!” I thought, “that’s the first dog I’ve seens since I entered the army!” I walked toward the young men, “Hi! May I pet your dog?”

    They looked confused, like they didn’t speak English or something, but quickly regrouped. “Sure!” the pertson who presumably owned the dog said.

    I pet the dog. I praised the dog for being a fine pup, a good boy. I complimented the owner for his fine dog. I scratched the dog’s ears. I enjoyed the contact with this lovely animal, and was so happy the man let me pet him.

    When I arrived at my friend’s apartment, I mentioned the dog. He turned gray. He asked me a few questions about the young men’s appeartance, where I saw them, what they were doing.

    “You are lucky,” he told me. “They are members of a motorcycle gang. Last week, they held me up at the door to my apartment and took my watch.” [It was a graduation present, a Bulova Accutron, one of the first, if not the first, quartz watch.] He related their gang history of crime and intimidation, and their role in a murder of a rival gang member the week before. The German shepherd, it seems, was trained to intimidate victims, or at least it performed that service the day the watch was stolen.

    “Well, it was a nice dog,” I countered, “but I understand now why it confused them that I asked to pet it.”

    I saw the same group of men one other time I visited my friend. “Where’s your dog today?” I shouted out as I approached them.

    “Oh, you’re the guy who pet [dog’s name]!” one of them said, realizing who I was. “He’s home with [owner’s name]. Couldn’t make it out today.”

    I believe this is an example of what you write about. Or, maybe, how you don’t become a victim unless you act like one. Or, the day I survived against all odds by… Who knows? Apparently I made major points by not being afraid of the dog AND petting it! Maybe I was a dog whisperer, they imagined, someone with magical abilities to calm down a savage animal they used in crime. Or, if only they knew, just some naive guy from the sticks who didn’t know he was meant to play a victim.

  2. Natasha says:

    Thank you for your story. I think sometimes that people are taken back by kindness and/or fearlessness. Your story reminded me of the time that Richard and I went to Petsmart on a day that a police officer was giving a dog training session with his police dog, a german shepherd, at his side.

    The officer was horrified to see his highly trained police dog lying on his back on the floor getting belly rubs from Richard, who had a St. Francis-like relationship with animals. The dog also seemed to enjoy the baby-talk from Richard, a 6’6″ 250 lb. man who appeared intimidating in his own right. The officer had a few harsh words for Richard and when we passed the training class on the way out of the store, the officer had his dog placed in another room to avoid a repeat performance. I could never make Richard understand why the officer was mad at him.

  3. I was painfully shy most of my life and then I got old and now I talk to many people. This is NYC and the people respond positively to my amazement. It feels right to brighten someone’s day.

    • Natasha says:

      I still consider myself shy even though people laugh at me when I say I’m shy. New Yorkers have gotten a bad reputation. Whenever I look “lost” on the streets of NYC or in the subway, someone always comes to my aid. I think most people want to be nice and helpful.

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