It’s easy to forget what it means to be a good human when we have become so disconnected from each other. I can’t tell you the number of times that I catch myself being so oblivious to the world around me and this is especially true on my commutes to and from work on the train. The second I step out of my car at the station, my noise-cancelling headphones are on, my phone is out, and I could literally be standing next to my BFF and I probably wouldn’t notice. Despite having a fairly public life and being very connected via social media, in real life I’m quite the opposite but I’m far from being the only one. If you’re out in public, chances are the overwhelming majority of people around you are on their phones and disconnected with real life.
All this to say, how can we be good humans if we only interact with each other over technology? How can we maintain common courtesies if we are too wrapped up in watching puppy videos to notice when someone needs our help?
I was asked to be part of Local Laundry’s Travelling Sweater/#communitycrew campaign a month or so ago. The premise of the campaign is to do random acts of kindness and showcase Calgary all while wearing this cool sweater. I was stoked to be part of the campaign and instantly started planning my grand gestures of kindness. The strategy was: Day 1 would be visiting my Grandma’s retirement home with cookies and handing them out to everyone we could, day 2 would be buying
strangers lunch at popular spots around downtown over my lunch break, and day 3 would be the wrap up event where I hand over the sweater in the most ceremonious way.
Day 1 went off swimmingly. I brought a little over 150 cookies to my grandma’s place and we handed them out to everyone we could find. Not only way this heartwarming for my grandma and I, I could tell we were genuinely making people’s days. I left her retirement home with my heart full and was eager to start day 2.
Day 2 didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped. Work got really, really busy and going to buy lunches for people was completely out of the question. I stayed at work pretty late and right as I left I found out that my grandma had ended up in the hospital (disclaimer: this was unrelated to the cookies and she is better now). Naturally family takes priority over all else and my focus became my grandma and work. At this point, my plans for the #communitycrew were properly derailed.
Day 3 started and my head was everywhere. I had 100 other things to focus on and so neglected the sweater and the project that I was so excited for. That day during my commute home, I was standing on the train platform feeling stressed from life and deflated about my ‘poor kindness performance’. I felt like I had failed the sweater and everything that it stood for. Serendipitously, my self-deprecating thoughts were interrupted by a guy going person to person asking for them to buy him a train ticket in exchange for a $5 bill because he didn’t have change or any cards on him. Person after person would decline and say they didn’t have change or worse, didn’t have time to help. I forgot my headphones and overheard this. First, he wasn’t looking for anything for ‘free’, he just wanted an exchange so he could get home and not get a nasty transit fine. Second, I honestly don’t think anyone else heard him and assumed he was looking for money or something for free (and even if he was, at least listen to him). I stepped in, bought him a ticket and insisted he kept his $5. It was the smallest, easiest act of kindness ever but it made a difference for that guy and his day.
On the train home I kept thinking about this and feeling embarrassed that typically I just shake my head no when people approach me without even hearing what’s up. That led me to think about the other things I’m guilty of – not always holding the door because I don’t hear people behind me, not being able to help people when they’re looking for directions because I’m too busy watching Instastories, and just generally missing out on opportunities to be a good human, and not because I don’t want to be good, but because I’m too distracted to see opportunities.
Despite my grand gestures not quite working out, the Local Laundry campaign opened my eyes that you don’t need a special occasion to be a good human, you just need to make yourself available to be good. And being good doesn’t always require 150 cookies, social media and some viral-worthy gesture, being a good human can be subtle but just as meaningful.
Pssst. the Edmonton travelling sweater campaign is just starting. Follow along on their story.