The Kindness of Strangers

One of the most famous lines in A Streetcar Named Desire is uttered at the end when Blanche Dubois’ questionable grip on reality crumbles. As she demurs to the doctor escorting her to a mental institution, she tells him, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” In the context of this play, Blanche is a sorry case who cannot care for herself, but one wonders just how much of a kindness is being done for Blanche at this moment? What does her future look like?

When was the last time you did something truly kind for another? Was this person someone you know or a stranger? Do you find it easier to be compassionate to those close to you or faceless unknowns? Do you believe the act of forgiving is a kindness? To whom?

Kindness is an interesting construct because its form depends on both the giver and the receiver, who may have very different interpretations of the act at issue. Take Blanche, for instance. She may believe that the good doctor is going to help get her away from Stanley Kowalski and back on her feet, while the doctor sees himself as doing everyone a favor by indefinitely hospitalizing this vulnerable and delusional woman who presents “difficulties” for Stella and Stanley’s relationship. Has Blanche been done a favor? What do you think?

“I meant well,” isn’t sufficient justification when doling out acts of charity or friendship gone awry. Of course, we can’t always know how our gestures will be received, but we can use our understanding of the situation to make an educated guess. Instead, way too often, people don’t think it through; they just act, using what they would want for themselves as their guide. What you consider to be generous and thoughtful, I may perceive as condescending or controlling. “Here, let me do that for you.” When people feel particularly vulnerable, it can be tricky to negotiate the shoals of providing support  while respecting the personal space and sense of dignity each one of us needs. It’s hard for some to express gratitude—not because what was done wasn’t truly helpful, but because giving and accepting aid is an acknowledgement of vulnerability by both parties. This is where the concept of personal humility comes in: the giver needs to be humble as they give because, at any point, they, too, may need assistance, and the recipient must accept the kindness in that same spirit. But, it goes farther than that, because true generosity is given without any expectation of reciprocity or obligation. At one time or another, we’re all in the same boat.

One of the most difficult parts of my re-booting process has been accepting help as I’ve struggled to leave my past behind and start again. I’ve been the beneficiary of tremendous kindnesses, for which I am deeply grateful and remain awed that I could be so lucky. The fact that I’ve asked for, and received, willing assistance hasn’t lessened my distaste for needing to do this. It’s illogical, I know, because I am more than happy—actually gratified—to help others when asked, but I don’t view my own situation in the same way. Instead, I feel humbled and embarrassed by my painful and prolonged period of perceived impotence. Have you ever felt this way?

The thing that keeps me going through this is that I trust there’s a positive outcome that can result from my struggles, and I see the kindnesses bestowed upon me as a clear sign of a benevolent universe. As painful and uncomfortable and filled with loss as the past several years have been, I recognize, too, that I am light years ahead of where I’d be had I remained rooted in my old spot. I shudder at who I might have become had I stayed. Nothing is worth that. This belief has only been confirmed by the kindness and support of those around me, those who have helped keep me afloat when I felt like drowning.

We’ve all experienced loss and struggle in our lives. We’ve all benefitted from the unsolicited compassion of others. And, as re-booters, one of our primary goals is to live our lives, going forward, with humility for where we have been and hope for where we are going. This is the message we can impart to those around us. This is the kindness of strangers.

I firmly believe that for all the cruelty done in this world of ours, there is far more humanity to be found. Integrating the important take-aways from these experiences is a core element of our re-booting as we strive to become more thoughtful, mature adults. I’m unable to adequately articulate what I believe we should get from this leavening process, but what I do know is that I want to be more consciously kind and unashamedly grateful for the kindnesses bestowed from strangers and friends, alike.

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2 Responses to “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    A winner blog. Good job

    Sent from mobile carrier

    >

  2. Grasshopper Says:

    What a wonderful post!! Thank you.

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