Is “ordinary” kindness becoming a casualty of our technological age?

I arrived at the bus stop, cold and in a hurry, as usual – just as the bus I wanted was leaving. “So typical!”  I muttered crossly to myself, settling down to wait for the next one with an ill grace. A tall, lean, youngish woman with long, rather straggly hair, wearing a dark coloured jacket, jeans and a pair of Wellington boots arrived at the stop. I thought she looked rather strained and tired.

Speaks for itself...
Speaks for itself…

To help pass the time, I outlined my theory of bus catching to her. If you couldn’t care less about catching a bus, two will pass you going in your direction, any of which would do, I said. If you’d quite like a bus because you are feeling lazy, one will pass you just as you are arriving at the stop. If you are desperate to catch a bus and very much behind schedule, a posse of three will speed by, pretending not to see you.

The woman laughed and laughed. I noticed she had large, soulful eyes. “Ain’t that so close to the truth you could bite its bum,” she spluttered. And on we chatted, until at last the bus arrived. As we were getting on, she said thanks for our chat. “No problem,” I said. “I always talk to people!” She looked at me before taking her seat. Her eyes filled with tears. ” Today,” she said, “it was more important than you will ever know.”

Our brief encounter was important to me, too. It got me thinking about “ordinary” human connection, and exchanges of “ordinary” warmth from one person to another.

Recently, I was in a big city centre store, returning a faulty amplifier. It was very straightforward, and although I was rather tired and in need of some lunch, I suddenly decided to investigate the in-store availability of a small digital overhead projector which I’d been thinking of purchasing to run off my laptop, my twenty year old OHP now being very out of date.

What a mistake that was! I was pitched into one of those protracted gothic techno-nightmares which we all have from time to time in which everything possible goes wrong. Note to self: I really MUST learn that there is a time to give up, ie before I am lying in a frazzled, tearful heap on one of the sofas of the said department store, bellowing into my mobile phone to my husband who simply can’t hear me at the other end.

Throughout the whole of this protracted saga, I was ably and calmly helped (she didn’t get anywhere, either,  in wading through the techno-snake pit into which we had stumbled) by a very professional and unflappable shop assistant who went to endless trouble to try and unravel the knotty series of problems we encountered at every stage of my attempted purchase.She was just great: calm, efficient, and most important of all – kind.

Some weeks later, I have recovered from that saga – no, since you ask, I still do not have a digital projector!– but I have not forgotten that young woman’s much appreciated kindness.

By a bizarre twist of fate, my husband and myself are both having to undergo eye surgery in March, within twelve days of each other. Last month, we both went to his pre-op assessment and met the surgeon who is to do his procedure which should be pretty routine. We immediately took to this man, who spoke to us both with warmth, humour, wisdom and great humanity. Afterwards, we both felt much better for that encounter. ” I’ll feel quite safe in his hands,” my husband remarked.

I have been fortunate to have been able to build up a relationship of trust and confidence in the consultant who will be doing my surgery –  over several years. Because of the humanity and kindness of my surgeon, as well as his skill and experience, I will feel as safe as one can, given the nerve wracking circumstances of  basically having a drainage channel cut in my left eye under a local anaesthetic. Having a black sense of humour and good supportive friends helps greatly too. Valium – here I come!

We all need to give and to receive kindness and care in both fleeting and  significant interactions with our fellow human beings. But we would need to be literally and metaphorically blind not to notice that the further we move collectively into techno- sophistication, the more compromised those day to day human interactions have become. We seem to be evolving socially into an increasingly neurotic population becoming better able to relate to our gadgets than our fellow citizens.

Whilst not in any way decrying those wonderful improvements and advantages which ever- advancing technological progress have brought our way, we need to be more aware of what is happening to our “ordinary” humanity in the process.

That great 20th century explorer of the human condition, psychologist and mystic Carl Gustav Jung, had wise words to say which are relevant here. If there is something wrong with society, there is also something wrong with me; therefore I need to start with myself in beginning to effect positive change, was the gist of his message.

So there we have it. Whilst being sensibly self-protective, let us all take opportunities wherever we can to reach out, even in small ways, to our fellow citizens. Talk to people at the bus stop. Thank people and show appreciation to those who are kind to us (I have Jaqui, the shop lady’s email address and will be sending her a copy of this post).

If people in the caring professions treat us with a lack of humanity and kindness, let’s try and make someone aware of this, preferably them, or their superiors. We may be doing some good in making it less likely that someone else will be treated this way. A couple of years ago I pointed out to an orthopaedic surgeon that his registrar had the inter- personal skills of a gnat. I hope and trust that this might have had some positive benefit for subsequent patients… 

I am indeed fortunate in living in that great grubby lively metropolis, the city of Glasgow in Scotland. Like any urban environment, there are plenty things wrong with it. But its reputation is of a warm-hearted place where its citizens are friendly and always up for a chat. I have certainly found this to be true. It has rubbed off on me. So – get out there, and get chatting, wherever you are. You never know when a few friendly words at a bus stop may make a big difference to someone else’s day. or even their life…

What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d like to hear them!

1110 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


22 thoughts on “Is “ordinary” kindness becoming a casualty of our technological age?

  1. I’ve read articles recently about how we are not only losing our ability to read and write in more than 140 Twitter characters, but there is some research suggesting we may also be losing our ability to read each others facial expressions due to lack of interaction. BUT at the same time, there is something going on with my understanding (lack of it?) with family (4th House) where I’m being challenged to see the larger world as my family and to abandon artificial ties of blood. I’m shaking my head today and smiling due to the kind offers to help me with my novel by strangers. One of the powers of the internet is that it allows us to find like-minded people. You and I met here, too. Of course, there are downsides too.

    1. Ellis, it’s amazing how much I resonate with you re what you say about shifting one’s focus to our human family and abandoning ties of blood. And about like minds. I wish you all the best with the book and will of course buy a copy when it comes out. I’d have been one of your volunteers too – but too big a reading pile at present!

  2. Like you Anne, I’ve definitely found that that the small human kindnesses are those which can make someone’s day and also someone else’s kindness can make mine. It’s really rather amazing the difference it can make 😉

    1. Yes, Carole, it certainly is! You might be amused to know that the email I sent to kind Karen of the techno-nightmare bounced back. Will have to abandon technology and give her a copy personally…

  3. People who work in the service industry have no idea how much power they have – that they can make or break a person’s day, and how every interaction reflects on many others. I’m with you Anne…praise those who have patience and kindness and also speak up to those who don’t. A great post!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Elspeth! It’s true that we can get so complex in our relationship with various facets of life that we overlook simplicity. And the simple reaching out of one person to another, as you say, can and does make a big difference.

  4. Like you anne, I’ve never been slow to open up a conversation with a stranger. I think it is so important and most folk are happy to enter in to conversation with me, only a few regard me as a potential threat. (Maybe they’re the ones who have previously met me!). Fingers crossed for successful eye procedures for both of you.

  5. Hi Anne , I thank you for your reading ,you are absolutely right human kindness is necessary although we are living in technologyical age,and I remember how warm you were once I greeted you on the new year early morning 2015′. You immediately replied me with your tender words and you told me about that tragedy that happened in Glasgowat at George Suare . made me feel the heartbeat of your city in Scotland although I am living here in Kuwait and this was my first time reading for you , I respected your warm heart and your human kindness you really delivered the pulse of your society to Here ,you let me felt how your people , the citizens helped each other that Day, cared and comforted the injured.
    I thank you for your very human kindness to let me read for you every time since that day when I dropped by your Blog .

  6. Dear Meya yes, I well remember you! Thank you so much for continuing to read my posts. It means a great deal to me to know that you do, and to read your generous and affirming words. Blessings, Anne

  7. Hi Anne. I also love living in Glasgow, where ‘you never shop alone’ as someone is bound to pass comment on whatever outfit you try on. It is a shock to realise that other cities are not like this and random conversations are viewed as threatening. I slowly learned not to talk to strangers in Atlanta when I realised that every friendly opening to a fellow parent in a play park resulted in people grabbing their kids and fleeing in terror. I even put on a posh Edinburgh accent so as not to seem like a scary Glaswegian! Thanks for your post. I completely agree.

    1. Hello Janey
      many thanks for your comment-I found your account of attempted friendliness in Atlanta pretty shocking. And sad…
      If you’ve seen my mugshot on my blogs and recognise me when you are out and about, do stop and say hello! We have a standard to keep up here…

  8. Hi Anne, your description certainly resonated with me and made me smile. My children always joke about my ability to make new friends at bus stops or wherever I might be! I can still remember some of the “random” people I’ve come across in life and the seemingly trivial exchanges we had which left a lasting impression. Looking forward to reading more!

  9. I need to re-read this, because it’s late and I’m not focusing well. But one thing did catch my attention, for a first comment. While I understand — and appreciate — the ability to join with like-minded people, both online and otherwise, the thought that ties of blood are artificial, or somehow to be broken on a whim, truly bothers me.

    I understand that siblings, parents, children and fringier relatives may have little in common, may have serious disagreements, and may simply not “get on” with us as well as those whose friendship we choose. But it bothers me deeply to see children warehousing parents in institutions, siblings breaking ties with siblings over trivial matters, or parents simply abandoning children because hey become too much trouble or interfere with the parents’ lives.

    When kindness disappears from families, and support disappears — well, nature abhors every kind of vacuum, and the state is more than willing to move in. The state does many things well, but it doesn’t parent well, or offer compassion to the aging.

    But as I said, this is only one bit of dissent in the midst of what I think is general agreement. I’ll be back again tomorrow for another read!

    1. Hello Linda
      I wholeheartedly agree with all you say here. I do not know what circumstances prompted Ellis’ ‘blood ties’comment so would not presume to speak for her. However – and very sadly – I know all too well from both professional and personal experience that in exceptional circumstances a relative or relatives can become so highly toxic and destructive to their family members’ lives that the only feasible option is to cut ties. This is typically only done after years of attempting to cope with, and help, the destructive relative who demonstrates by their behaviour that change is either not possible or not possible without some acceptance of personal responsibility. Usually, if violence is a factor (which it often is), alcohol and/ or drug addiction is involved. Cutting ties after many years in order to make one’s own life either safe, tolerable or both is one of the worst choices individuals have to make. In my experience, it is only done when all other options are exhausted.

  10. I did wake up at 3 am thinking about the issue, and just didn’t quite have the oomph to get up and post. But here’s what I thought, roughly: if we don’t learn kindness within the family, as children, it will be harder for us to understand both the giving and receiving of kindness as adults. If “family” has negative connotations, or simply has been absent, appeals to the “family of man” are going to be meaningless.

    I wonder if we couldn’t trace technology’s role in this back to the very beginnings of television, and the first use of tv as a “babysitter.” Today, we have the sight of entire families sitting at restaurant tables, each with a device in hand, paying not a whit of attention to one another. You can’t be kind to someone you don’t see.

    Which brings me to your eye surgeries. As it happens, just a week ago I went in for my six month eye exam, and now I’m scheduled for eye surgery in April! My glaucoma is still under control, but my cataracts? Not so much. I’ll be having laser surgery to remove them, and new lenses implanted. That’s nerve-wracking enough to think of, but even more nerve-wracking was deciding to go ahead despite the cost. About a third will be covered by insurance — if I only had the cataracts removed the old-fashioned, surgical way, it would be covered entirely. But I decided that if I’m going to do it, I might as well so with the more precise laser surgery, and the new lenses.

    But, yes. Once I’d met the surgeon and made my decision, I called my eye doc to see what he thought of my decision. Lo and behold, the man called me back within a half-hour, to discuss it. (And say, by the way, that I’d made precisely the choice he made a couple of years ago.) So, in my situation, too, the kindness of a quick response was helpful in easing my own anxieties. Kindness does count!

    Here’s to easy surgeries for us all!

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