Note: This post was originally published on my author blog on 20 November 2015.
This photo, captured at a MARTA station in Atlanta by Redd Desmond Thomas, recently went viral. The photographer overheard the woman in the red coat ask her husband to help this earnestly dressed young man with his tie. The husband, likely used to his wife telling him what to do, patiently bent and showed the young man how to tie a tie.
This random act of kindness went viral, and I’m not sure exactly what that says about modern, Western society, or even the whys. Was it because kindness is so rare in the US? Or maybe because we’re so inundated with horrifying news on a daily basis, this simple act was a welcome antidote?
Or was it because the elderly couple was white and the young man black, and the act took place in the South, a veritable bastion of racism according to any and all?
Although I’ve lived in the South my entire life and journeyed outside its hallowed grounds only rarely, I’ve had the misfortune to run across many a nasty body originating from other parts of the US. Let me tell you, people. Southerners are by far the kindest humans I’ve ever met. We’re neighborly. We value family, friends, and community. Believe it or not, we don’t generally care what race, creed, nationality, or sex other people are. They get a smile in line at the grocery store the same as people we know.
That’s right, folks. We’re not nearly as racist or whatever-ist as outsiders portray us to be. Individually? Sometimes, yes. As a whole? Nunh-unh.
But this picture isn’t evidence of that. It’s not evidence of anything, not even this one simple truth: Kindness is an intrinsic aspect of human nature, the same as violence, xenophobia, and tribalism. It’s an instinct drummed out of many of us at an early age, but it’s still there, alive and kicking if we listen really hard.
When I look at that picture, I don’t see a white man helping a black man. I see a young man struggling to make his way in the world, benefiting from the experience of an elderly stranger. Kindness isn’t rare. It’s all around us, hidden in the common courtesies of opening a door for someone, saying “please” and “thank you,” giving a father carrying a crying infant your place in line, or buying a slice of pizza for the teenager who’s a dollar short.
These kindnesses shouldn’t be celebrated. They should be repaid with a smile for the next person who needs it. Kindness costs nothing, y’all, but it gives joy wherever it goes. That’s a simple truth we should all do our best to foster.