A willingness to extend kindness to strangers is a trait of ordinary people around the world — perhaps because most everyone at some time has been lost, hungry, in pain, confused or simply caught in the rain. Empathetic strangers, knowing what trouble feels like, often come to the rescue.
In China, this attribute seems especially pronounced. I know because I have been the beneficiary.
A few examples:
As I was walking one day in Beijing, a major cloudburst opened up. You may have heard the expression “raining cats and dogs”. That day it rained whales and elephants. A stranger saw my plight and waved me quickly into his covered porch, where he offered a cup of tea and the chair he had been sitting in.
My bike once blew a tire a long way from home, the blast knocking the rubber off the rim. Pushing the disabled bike was difficult. Seeing my struggle, a young man pulled up in one of those three-wheeled open trucks. Using hand signals, he indicated he wanted to help, and then he hauled the bike and me to a repair shop 2 kilometers distant. I offered him money, but he just grinned, shook his head and waved goodbye.
Near the end of Spring Festival, I lost my reading glasses. Amazingly, the only business open in the neighborhood happened to be an eyeglass shop. The proprietor told me she would make the glasses, and I could pick them up the next day. When I said I needed them at the office that night, she paused, puzzled a moment, and then cheerfully told me to come back in two hours. I did, and collected the finished glasses. I tried to pay her extra for her trouble, but she refused.
A couple weeks ago, I went to buy four big suitcases for travel. If you’ve ever tried to push four of those by yourself, you may sympathize. I looked ridiculous, bags dancing wildly across the floor. Then I got a tap on the shoulder. It was the seller offering his assistance.
Taking two of the bags, he steered me to the freight elevator. At the bottom he indicated I should wait, and then he disappeared. A few minutes later he drove up in a canvas-covered vehicle with his two children, a boy and a girl, on his lap. He stuffed three bags inside and lashed the fourth to the roof.
Then we all went sailing merrily down the road to my home, 20 minutes away. I offered money, but he refused. In broken English he said, “Feel good help you.”
Such deeds inspire me. Since I cannot pay back, I have vowed to pay forward when opportunities arise, and I invite you to join me. Try this: Every time a stranger helps you, return the favor by helping two other people. A wave of goodwill will roll forward exponentially.
At home I have a small ceramic plaque that was sent to me by my mother. The inscription states a great truth: “There’s no such thing as a small act of kindness.”