Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

One of the great lines in American drama was spoken by Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" when she uttered the phrase: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Tennessee Williams knew how to reveal Blanche's personality clearly and concisely.

Perhaps it's a good thing that Blanche was a fictional character. She might have a hard time trying to find kindness around her today.

Kindness is defined as 1. ABILITY TO BEHAVE KINDLY the practice of being or the capability to be sympathetic and compassionate 2. COMPASSIONATE ACT an act that shows consideration and caring.

Life today is nearly devoid of personal acts of kindness between individuals. When was the last time someone demonstrated even the smallest "random act of kindness" toward you? Difficult to remember, isn't it?

Now consider the last time you encountered someone who was rude, abrupt, uncaring, even aggressive. I'll bet recalling that example was easier. Each of us encounters rudeness on an amazingly frequent basis. A driver pulls in front of you for a parking space. Someone steps in front of you to reach the checkout line. You telephone a business for help only to be put on hold, then transferred through a labyrinth of instructions: "Press 1 for more options." My personal favorite is being on a lengthy telephone hold which is then interrupted while a mechanical voice reminds me that my call is very important to them. If my call is so important to you …

Several months ago, I was in a fast food store in a small, nearby town when a young man approached the door ahead of me, paused, smiled and said, "Sorry," then let me enter the door first. Earlier this week, I selected a single item at a grocery and when I got to the checkout line, the lady ahead of me stepped back and said, "If that's all you have, go ahead." Such events are rather insignificant and would have gone nearly unnoticed a few years ago. But unfortunately these examples now seem extraordinarily generous given the current circumstances in which we live.

We have become a society of pushy, impatient folks, each of whom believes his/her own existence and responsibilities are being restrained and imposed upon by everyone else.

I recently saw a news feature about an ivy league college of impeccable prestige that is offering students a brief course in social etiquette. Students with high IQs and boundless potential are being shown the how-tos of such topics as proper table manners, how to greet strangers and conduct a conversation. (These were primitive suggestions, too, such as close your mouth when chewing!)

Needless to point out that the rigid structure once mandated by Emily Post has eased in modern society. At the same time, it seems a shame that common sense may have slipped completely off the chart. It is good to acknowledge that we need a refresher course to basic manners and the methods by which to demonstrate respect toward others. But it's a sad comment that a large percentage of the public is so clueless as to how to behave that it needs to be taught in college workshops. What does that really say about us?

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