The Kindness of Strangers

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
Something about travel seems to turn on the human kindness gene, both for the traveler and for the locals whose paths they cross. Travel idealists throughout human history espouse leaving all our worldly possessions behind and relying on the kindness of strangers, and in our year-plus of research we’ve found it’s much less an ideal than you’d think and more of a daily practice.
On every trip we’ve taken, we’ve encountered the gracious kindness of people we’ve never met and likely would never see again, from a lady on the Paris metro who explained the metro map to us (despite her inability to speak English and our inability to speak French) to the Irish mobster in Amsterdam who let us use his phone to find a room. What–other than inherent goodness–motivates us to be kind to people we don’t know and we never expect to encounter again? And how do we adequately express gratitude to our benefactors when our encounters are so fleeting?
For the former, it would be easy to say that people are just good by nature and that’s why they volunteer to help.  While I think that’s true, I also think that–perhaps because we are good by nature–it simply feels good to be kind to someone else with no expectations of kindness in return.  It’s fun to be kind to someone, isn’t it?
For the latter, we naturally smile, say thank you in whatever language we can bring to mind at the moment, and we shake their hands or hug them. That enough would be more than adequate gratitude for me, but I think a greater way to express your gratitude is to share and multiply their kindness with the strangers you meet from then on.  Yes, I’m saying “pay it forward.”
Regular readers of our blog know that our son recently married. On their honeymoon they hit some unexpected difficulties with their reservations (we all know “stuff happens”), and naturally wanting everything to be perfect they had an emotional moment in the restaurant their first night. Nobody likes to see newlyweds, complete with their “Bride” and “Groom” Mickey ears, not enjoying their Disney honeymoon, so the waiter gave them a free dessert and the couple at a nearby table bought their dinner for them.
What an amazing way to start their lives together, almost as if their reservation problems were meant to be.
So my charter to my son was clear: whenever you see a newlywed couple from now on, you have to pay it forward by buying their meal, buying their dessert, buying them drinks, or in some way sharing and multiplying the kindness of strangers they were the beneficiary of.

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