The Kindness of Strangers
November 22, 2021
I often experience the kindness of spring strangers in extraordinary ways. But two unrelated recent events put me a contact with people who extended themselves beyond the call of friendliness. Their kind acts prompted me to contact them afterward and let them know how much I appreciated them.
The events made me wonder something. Were the people affected by recent protests that encourage allyship and more conscious acts of kindness towards African Americans? Or were they simply great Samaritans in their own right. Both were at play in both instances.
My wife says people are kind to me because of my personality and countenance, which may have some truth. I believe people are good and expect goodness from them. When I look at myself, I don’t see anyone different from other Ordinary Joes walking down the street.
In one instance, two young guys rescued me after I overturned a boat in deep water. The accident occurred after I jerked my outboard motor tiller causing the boat to flip. I wore my life jacket and sustained no injuries. My vessel received minor damage and I lost some gear.
The two young guys came and conveyed my boat back to the dock, and, treated me like I was their best friend. They could have done the minimum or ignored me altogether and left me out in the water. After bringing me aboard their boat and back to shore, they retrieved all my gear they could find. They put the boat back together. They also performed other acts of kindness that I expected to do myself.
Their respect towards me, as a Black man, was simply the best. I imagine some of their kindness resulted from their families’ teachings or their military bearing since we were on a military base. They could have been influenced by recent events raising awareness about the plight of African American men.
I simply don’t know. I was overwhelmed by the two men. So I called them to express my appreciation a couple of days after the event took place.
In another instance, my wife and I met an older gentleman, probably in his 70s, who was with his four-year-old grandson. We hit it off upon meeting each other as we were preparing our boats for launch in the bay. The conversations were so friendly and warm the gentleman gave me some gear for trip, and later, following his fishing expedition, gave me some of his catch. Not only did it give me some fish, he gave me the largest of his catch, which was a beautiful, trophy-sized Red Drum.
I thought of him as a generous spirit who displayed a super kind act far beyond everyday experience. We got to know each other better after connecting several times.
It makes me wonder why there is so much distress for other Black men going about their lives in a non-drama fashion. Are the people who cause harm under duress or driven by unconscious bias and aggression? Where is their wiring that endears them towards kindness?
I don’t believe I deserve any better treatment than the next guy. In fact, my close friends, most of whom are African American, enjoy the same freedoms and kindness of strangers as others.
There is enough White on White crime in this country, particularly, to tell me that most crime happens regardless race. The recent trial of Kyle Rittenhouse provides a perfect example White on White violence, which resulted in two deaths and five felony charges against Rittenhouse. Last week, Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges, which is my opinion, what’s the fair verdict resulting from a fair trial. The point I’m making here is that the trial was prompted by acts by a White person against other White people.
Still, the use of force by law enforcement officers against Black men far exceeds the use of force against Whites. The Center for Policing Equity reports the mean rate for Black residents was 273 per 100,000. That is 2.5 times as high as the overall rate and 3.6 times as high as the rate for White residents (76 per 100,000). That represents a significant disparity.
Is a correlation between use of force and use of kindness possible?
I wonder why (or whether) most kindness doesn’t extend itself as I experience it? If it did, it seems human beings can disrupt prejudice, reduce bias in the world, and offer one another equal respect, without regard to skin color and origin.
At this stage of my life, most of my daily human contact is with kind White people. That is a product of living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city with about three percent African Americans. I also pastor a 96% White Unitarian Universalist church.
On this Thanksgiving week, I plan to reach out to my friends I met who were so generous and helped me and showed kindness for the sake of being kind. I want to let them know how much I appreciate them as human beings. Their kindness affected my life and boosted my spirits and confidence in human relationships, especially between African Americans and Whites.
 Phillip Atiba Goff, Ph.D., et al., The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force, Los Angeles, Center for Policing Equity, July 2016, 14.