Today I left something undone that I wish I had done – though perhaps others may say I’m foolish to think so.
I was driving into the Dandenongs (a local mountain range) and had turned into a road that winds its way for about 10 minutes by car up the mountainside towards the town of Sassafras.
Just around the corner, before this road begins to twist and climb in earnest, I saw three young lads trying to hitch a ride. Probably in their late teens or early twenties, all with short hair and casually dressed in t-shirts and jeans. That’s all I could tell from the quick glimpse I caught of them as, even while my foot hesitated over the brake pedal, I drove on by.
And basically that’s the end of my story.
I can hear you all now:
“But of course!”
“You did the right thing.”
“Three young men? You’d have been stupid to stop.”
A chorus of reason and common sense? Yes, that’s true.
But what if I’d hit the brake instead of the accelerator? A different story plays in my head …
Instead of driving past, I stop the car. Ok, ok, so I have the doors locked, take a careful look at the three lads and ask them through a barely open window where they’re headed. :) But with all reasonable precautions taken and satisfied they pose no threat, I unlock the car and offer them a ride.
Somehow they fold themselves and their long legs into my wee car, and we’re off. We joke about the comfort of an air-conditioned car on such a hot day, even for a short ten minutes. I hear about the party they’re anticipating or the day’s adventure they’ve had – depending on whether their journey is taking them out or carrying them home. At the top of the road, I stop to let them out and with smiles and thanks they disappear from my life once more.
A foolish fantasy? Perhaps.
But I find myself wondering if I’ve been infected with the prevailing myth of potential danger in every stranger. It could instead have been a pleasant encounter, and I’d have done a good deed for the day – if I’d only been prepared to risk it.
After all, we’re not talking here about a lonely country road at night. It was broad daylight in a populated area, with a fair bit of traffic on the road.
And for all I know, these lads were just like the kids I used to teach. Needing to hitch rides when they lived or visited mates in the Dandenongs, because they couldn’t afford a car and availability of public transport up in the hills is poor, especially on a weekend.
So yes, I may indeed have done the most sensible thing under the circumstances.
But somehow I’m left feeling a little sad, partly guilty and a tad grubby – covered in the dirt of distrust and wanting to brush myself off.
And I like to think those young men didn’t have to trudge the whole way up the mountain – that they finally encountered someone who was kinder and more trusting than I was today!
The crazy Colombian says
I just found your blog, and was pretty interested in seeing this article; You’ll see, About 3 years ago, I came to the same conclusion, and decided to do something about it. I started a ‘kindness movement’ (pifaustralia.org) with the objective of breaking down some of today’s cultural barriers and inspire 1 million people to do a random (or deliberate) act of kindness.
Only a few days back I came across Appreciative Inquiry (my wife works in HR and is planning to use AI for a summit at her company, and wanted to discuss some ideas with me, so I read some of the material she had) and found that the concepts resonated very strongly with me. Now I am trying to learn more about AI, and understand how can some of its underlying principles be applied in small and big ways at organisations.
There are a number of articles that have demonstrated that we humans are not that great at accurately assessing risk; I believe that it was precisely this – your inability to adequately assess how much risk those 3 kids really posed – that became the obstacle in you taking a different course of action.
Good luck with your blog; I will add it to my short list of RSS entries now.
Diego, The crazy Colombian
Thank you Diego for such a thoughtful comment. I visited your website and love the idea of spreading random acts of kindness like ripples in a pond. It is lovely to think of the far shores on which their impact may be felt.
In relation to your comment about assessing risk, you may be right. Though in this particular instance if I’d actually slowed my car down enough, I’m sure I’d have been able to do so.
So in many ways perhaps it’s less about our inability to assess risk than it is about the speed with which we pass through life – not pausing long enough to stretch out a helping hand. :)