Kindness of strangers

Kindness of strangers

Last week I was the recipient of much kindness from strangers, following a minor accident on a railway station platform. Knocked over by a man rushing for his train and landing on my face and shoulder, I was picked up by a changing group of people I had never met before, who looked after me and one of them, belonging to the railway’s customer service team, wheeled me around in a wheelchair, patched me up, and arranged I would be looked after on the train getting me home. At all points in that large city, and the crowded train, strangers enquired about my welfare and offered assistance. I live in a small village, and here in contrast there were averted eyes and embarrassed faces, and probably people wondering if I had been beaten up or what. And perhaps also that I might develop a dependency on them if they offered an overture of kindness. Talking about this later with a friend, he conjectured that people were built to cooperate and be solicitous about each other’s welfare, and I responded with the anonymity of cities not preventing altruism while the close quarters of village life brought to the surface suspicion. And I was also reminded of similar experiences recorded in letters in South Africa over time, where perfect strangers offered considerable, help and support with altruistic purposes and no hidden agenda. Inter-dependence shaped this. At times this could cut across the colour line, but because of who the letters are written by, they mainly record white South Africans offering such help to each other in situations where they were a small minority and often at loggerheads with black neighbours. Altruism in our dealings with others is of collective benefit

Last updated: 21 April 2023


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