Friday, June 29, 2012

Politeness is the new impoliteness

It's been ages since I last felt like writing here. Since in the last post I mentioned I had a loved one who slipped into a coma, this blog just kept reminding me of that, I didn't want to come back here. Because in October, unfortunately, a pneumonia caused his death.

This was obviously not a pleasant time, especially when his family turned out to be very much in love with his money and the possessions he had had. It's always nasty to see people turn greedy, especially since they had hardly ever been around during his life. In such times it is, for me at least, impossible to be nice to everyone.

And I think that is one of the lessons I learned from the assignment I had given myself when I started this blog. I actually learned quite a lot from this blog, as little as I wrote on it. The experiment lived on, though, just without me writing about it. So did I fail? Yes. Miserably. For the first time since I was 16 I was ill in bed all day one day in the Winter and thus broke the 365 days rule. It was quite the pity, but again: I still have learned so much about myself, other people and even society.

What I learned was, that it is easy to be nice to at least one total stranger a day - provided you are healthy enough to actually make contact with other people, be it in person or online. But: it is virtually impossible to always be nice. What was interesting for me was the why behind that. I thought it was just because some people aren't all that inviting to be nice to - let's say I see a big bald guy with a swastika tattooed in his neck; I wouldn't be able to wish him a lovely day and actually mean it. I'm just not that... Enlightened. And I knew this before I started this little project.

So what did catch me by surprise? I found out that being kind these days is actually rude. Seriously rude. You're sitting there, all by yourself, on a bench, trying to update your facebook status and someone interrupts you by saying: 'Hi!' What the hell did they do that for? Now you're all distracted and you have to pull yourself back together and pretend you didn't hear the passerby, as there can only be one explanation for their friendliness: they need you. They want your money, your time, directions, advice on what time the grocery store closes... Whatever it is: you don't have the time because, flippin' hell, can't they see you are very much in the middle of doing something? Doesn't your whole body shout: 'I am outside, but by all means: I am trying to digitally socialize with people I know, so f*ck you, stranger. All you do is take, take, take.'

And that's probably because indeed, we do want to be left alone by strangers as much as possible. We have all accidentally spoken to some lone walker or straphanger who turned out to want nothing but money or someone to talk to for an entire commute, when we thought they were just going to ask if this indeed is the train to the centre. Polite is the new impolite. That's what I learned. This was kind of a bummer for me, but I still manage to be nice to at least one person a day, as I also learned to realize when being nice isn't seen as an invasion or an attempt to get something in return, but actually as a pleasant break from all the pretending not to be sharing the city landscapes.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thank you routine

As I said, I am not around here much these days.
In August, sadly, someone close to me got a heart attack and went into a coma. I wish I could say he's jumping around, tending his garden and petting his cat like he used to, but unfortunately, almost 2 months later, he still hasn't awoken and it looks like he might never wake up at all.

During a holiday in September I had all the time in the world to take it easy, and during that period I decided to pick up blogging as soon as I felt back to my old, more optimistic self.

In september, since most of the time I was on holiday in Italy and my Italian is barely good enough to be able to buy myself an ice cream, my act of kindness mainly consisted of tipping well and smiling broadly. But since I was able to take a bit of my holiday mood with me, I took it easy at home as well and started to thank people.

Thanking people is very rewarding and easy. Since this blog is about being kind to strangers, I started to focus more on what I enjoy in life. It wasn't part of my routine to thank for things like a great website. It never occured to me to surf to one of my frequently visited sites and look up a way to contact them and thank them. I now wrote a thank you mail to the BBC, telling them I love their Country Profiles at the bottom of their regional pages.

After a few days I actually got a reply, not a standard reply but a real thank you for my thank you comment. It might sound silly, but that felt pretty good as I hadn't expected a genuine reply at all. Now I got confirmation that someone was actually glad to read my thank you note!

I also contacted my favourite cartoonist, and had the exact same thing: a few days later he wrote back to thank me. It's very nice to see your email wasn't just read, but appreciated enough for the other person to write back.

Now I am planning on making the thank you email a routine. It's so easy to thank strangers for their creativity, their work, their stories, etc. About as easy as it is rewarding.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quick Summary

I haven't been around here much these days - I'll get back to that later.
I did meet my goal to be nice on a daily basis - and got quite some niceness in return.

What I did in August:

- Daily greetings.
- Letting people in a hurry cut the line in a supermarket.
- Asking a total stranger if she enjoys her work.
- Freed a goat from a piece of rope the poor thing got it's head stuck in. Basically it was accidentally tied to a gate this way.
- Locked the car door of someone who apparently forgot to do so.
- Held the elevator.
- Held the door.
- Gave directions to tourists.
- Told 2 new Amsterdammers who were looking for a place to practice yoga where to go.
- Helped someone with material for her research, see her comment in this post.
- Brought a bouncing todler from the pavement back to her mum inside a store.
- Been an absolute great tipper, as always.

As you can imagine, this was easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Barely cost any time, barely cost any Euro's.
And very happy and proud to still be on the right track for my project of being a perfect stranger for 365 days in a row!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness for Tourists

Years ago I worked as a photo editor at a photo press agency. How on earth I ended up there, looking back I honestly haven't got a clue as my main interest as an editor is to edit text, not pictures. But a colleague of mine was as interested in photography as you might expect from your average photo editor. He used to walk around the city with his camera in his hand or around his neck most of the time.

He told me that - almost daily - this resulted in a request by tourists to use their camera and take a picture of them. He would always agree (that in itself is obviously a random act of kindness to strangers) but he'd add a little something extra. As soon as the loving couple, family or group of friends were in position he would... Just stand there with the camera, without pushing the button.

After a couple of seconds, someone would hesitantly point out that the button was on the ... side of the camera... Right there... See? O yes, he would nod, he didn't realize and again, he'd assume the photographer position and... Not press the button. Then, surely, most of, if not all of the posing people would stop posing and THAT's when he would *CLICK*! And hand the camera over with a big smile.

I remember thinking my colleague was a bit of a jerk for doing that, but he continued his story. 'Who needs those dorky posed pictures? It is way more fun when everyone is just acting like themselves. And more importantly: I'll look like a total dork and they'll have a story to go with the picture, in stead of a boring holiday picture.'

I'm not sure if his logic makes sense; maybe most people just toss the picture, but I really like the thought behind his anti-holiday picture.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots

Yes, reclaiming the streets, one step at a time. It's easier said than done, when looking at the riots in Great Britain.

Why did those riots start? Was it absence of faith, hope, fathers, direction? Was it because crime pays? Was it because commercials raise greedy consumerists? Was it because English politicians have done a lousy job taking care of certain groups? Was it because the police was unprepared? Was it because of racism?

Quite frankly, I don't know, but I'm sure of one thing: there are multiple reasons people misbehaved, and one of them is that people these days seem to think they're entitled to anything and everything.

Why did they loot? Simple. Because they could.

It's hard for me to think that people can do this to each other; people didn't just lose their house or shop, people got killed. It's mindblowing to think that this could happen almost anywhere in Europe.

I find it hard to focus on the good side of people in times like these; humans tend to be disappointing in so many ways. But that's obviously not what this blog is about. So let's have a good look at some of the nicer things that happened right after the riots.

People picked up brooms for the riot cleanup, some folks realized police had been working 30 hour shifts and might like themselves an oh so British cup of tea, and saving the best for last this initiative to help an 89 year old barber rebuild his barber shop that was ransacked by very brave kids indeed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kindness responses, slowly but surely

People have started to answer me. I actually get one of the softest, faintest 'hello's' in the world in the morning these days. The evening crew is still a hard nut to crack, but I'm confident we'll get there. One step at a time, reclaiming those streets.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sometimes being kind to strangers is as easy as...

Not being completely asocial. Let me elaborate on that.

Last week everyone in our area got a direct marketing message from a hotel chain, in the shape of a 'do not disturb' cards you find on hotel doors. This marketing tool was hung on everyone's door knob and when my significant other found it leaving the house, he took it with him to immediately throw it in the trash. All the other door knobs were still carrying the 'do not disturb' sign.

When he came back home from grocery shopping, he found another one on our door. One of the other door knobs was now message free. Basically, the only explanation was, that the person who lived behind that door, took it and hung it on our bare door. Why they did this, is obviously not clear to me, but I take it, this person was too lazy to bring it down stairs and throw it in the trash, but was not to lazy to walk over to our door and hang it there.

Now obviously this is not a big issue or deal, but I do feel that this illustrates quite well how we are all living our own lives, not caring too much about the one's of others.