The Surprising Self-Interest in Being Kind to Strangers

We all have problems. Not a single one of us is living a perfect life. Syndicated advice columnist Amy Alkon recently gave a TedX talk titled The Surprising Self-Interest in Being Kind to Strangers, where she discusses how our current society removes many of us from a close community where we know everyone and everyone knows us. We’re psychologically programmed, according to Alkon, to help our friends and family, but at the same time programmed to be wary of strangers.

Many of us don’t even know neighbors we’ve lived next to for years–me included. I’ve lived across the hallway from the same couple for almost 8 years. I’ve said hello, I’ve held the door for them, and once I even took their garbage out for them, but I don’t know if they have children, what they do for a living, or their first names (their last name is on their mailbox). I’m sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t know their neighbors.

To keep reading, and to see the video, click here: The Surprising Self-Interest in Being Kind to Strangers. The talk really is worth listening to.

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3 thoughts on “The Surprising Self-Interest in Being Kind to Strangers

  1. I don’t know why this is considered “surprising”; it’s the root of all unenforced charity (my definition being acts of giving that noone is forcing you to do. Welfare when the government takes taxes from you by threat of force is not charity). Go help prepare food at a local homeless shelter, hand out food at a food pantry, pay for groceries for a stranger; these all start at the core being of the giver. And yes, it makes you feel good to be able to help someone else. It’s not always about things either; it’s often about simply acknowledging the person (smile, say hello). Growing up my dad made chairs for kids at a local Cerebal Palsy center; I helped deliver them. People with CP love when you actually notice them and interact with them instead of their caregiver. Next time you see someone in a wheelchair out in public, see how many interact with the person in the wheelchair vs interacting with the caregiver.

  2. Just this morning, I had clicked on a newsfeed of a man rendering aid to a woman trying to commit suicide. While the news story was disturbing, it demonstrated this man’s courage and kindness to a total stranger while others stood around. This man was riding his motorcycle, wearing a body camera, when he came upon a traffic jam. He rode around the stopped cars and came across a woman in the middle of the road trying to strangle herself; she had tightly wrapped a cord around her neck. At first the cord was not evident, but he quickly figured out what was going on, unwound it and gently started caring for this poor woman. At this point several other people stepped in to help. The man after assuring that help was on the way and the woman was being cared for, he started chastising the people standing there. He asked why no one stepped forward to help her; they had just sat in their cars. I thought about this video all morning and then I saw Suzanne’s article. I would like to think I would have the same courage and compassion as motorcycle driver.

    I have had a long career in HR and I am not afraid to take charge and also show compassion, but it is always surprising how many people are afraid to do something or say something for fear they may do the wrong thing. I counsel managers all the time that it is okay to be human, be kind, empathetic and lead by exception. (Of course, staying within our laws and not create disparate treatment etc.)
    Like the video I saw this morning, how did we get to this point, or not progress further as a society that people isolate themselves in their cars as a poor woman is struggling in front of them, or simply not connecting with our neighbors and coworkers?

    I do want to acknowledge the wonderful people like the man I saw this morning that step forward in big and little ways.

  3. “…how did we get to this point…”? (my opinion)
    Lawyers. Google up “Kitty Genovese murder”. Lots of states have Good Samaritan laws that in theory prevent people from being sued when they try and help someone, but you still have people getting sued or threatened with lawsuits and they wind up erring on the side of “I don’t need this crap”.
    Government. Too many people have been told/taught that the government (at whatever level) will help you/take care of you. Lots of states have AGs saying not to defend yourself. All this leads to the mindset of “someone else will help”.
    It’s tough to do the right thing sometimes, but the desire to do so comes from the core of a person’s being. Can’t force someone to be a hero, they just are.

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