Sadly I am often surprised by how, when given the opportunity, people are not kind to a stranger. We live in a harsh and cynical world where there is not a lot of kindness. I understand people are jaded, but when you make a conscious decision to not lend a hand to someone in need, it is a lack of decency and compassion that makes me sad and hurts my feeling.
Yesterday was a gorgeous day in Los Angeles so we drove along the coast and ended up at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. It is an outdoor shopping street with lots of places to eat, street performers, and no cars allowed. There are an insane amount of tourists, many homeless people, tons of kids, and while crowded, a fun way to spend the afternoon.
We decided to eat at a place called Yankee Doodle. Not my cup of tea, but when we are with the kids they get to choose and so we settled in and started to check out the menu. Two tables over from us was a group of about eight people having lunch. I noticed them when we sat down because the majority of the table was young, handsome, athletic men.
Sidebar: The bathroom in this place was horrific and I was tempted to call the health department. The garbage was over flowing, there was no toilet paper, toilet seat covers, or soap. I asked to speak with the manager to tell him what a nightmare it was, and he truly could not have cared less. He said it is cleaned every 15 minutes, which was a blatant lie.
I let him know the bathroom had not been cleaned in 15 days and he told me he would take care of it. No apology, no embarrassment, just a smug attitude that implied he could not be bothered with me or my concerns. That’s not part of this story really, except to say that if you have a choice of using that bathroom or the street, the street is cleaner.
As we ordered lunch, I noticed a commotion with the group of young men. One of them appeared to be choking as another one of them gave him the Heimlich maneuver. Everyone in the restaurant could see what was happening and not one person went to the aid of this young man. I went over and lifted his arms over his head like I did when my son was young.
He was clearly shaken and afraid, so I treated him as if he was my own child and tried to relax and comfort him. I rubbed his back, and leaned over so I could talk into his ear. I told him he was fine, to breathe and not be afraid. I assured him I was there and everything would be okay. I offered to call paramedics but he was better and they were not needed.
I stayed with him for a couple of minutes to make sure he drank some water and could breathe deeply and without discomfort. I turned to his friends, who were all standing and visibly shaken, and told them it was okay. I let them know I never missed an episode of ER or General Hospital, and I had it covered. The young man was fine, so I went back to my table.
In the several minutes that I was with this lovely young man not one person come over to see if he was okay, of if we needed help. Waiters and waitresses continued to work and the manager I complained about the bathroom to simply looked on. People continued to talk and eat as they looked on. They watched his distress without moving a muscle.
I found the entire thing to be sad and pathetic. Sad that it never occurred to anyone to extend kindness to a stranger, and pathetic that we live in a society where when given a chance to be decent, people turn the other way. It was also upsetting from the perspective of a mother. What is it were my son choking? Would nobody help out my baby?
As we were eating our lunch the young man came over to thank me. He told me he appreciated my help, that I made him feel safe, and he was so thankful I got involved. It was a lovely moment and I let him know I was happy he was okay and that I appreciated him coming over to say thank you. I was thankful he was fine and happy I was able to comfort him.
Being kind to a stranger matters. In fact, as I was reminded by one of my Twitter followers, being kind to people you know matters just as much. It costs nothing to be kind. It does not take courage or an education. It simply requires that you are decent. Does every human being have the capacity to be kind and decent? I am keeping the faith.
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