Being kind in Kansas City, part 1

Hello! It has been a very fun week of experimenting with acts of kindness in Kansas City. For my acts of kindness, I chose to give strangers who seemed to need it a ride to where they needed to go. I chose this act because I was recently without a car for five months, and had to rely on public transportation for everything. It would take me about four hours to get to school and back, although it is only a ten minute drive. I also was not able to buy very many groceries at a time as I would have to carry them great distances to get home, which made shopping more expensive and time-consuming.. If I needed to look nice to go somewhere, I would be at the mercy of the elements, and if it was raining or snowing, I would arrive at my destination looking like a drowned or cold rat. I also had to worry about my personal safety when I was walking or waiting for the bus at odd hours. Having been through this experience again last semester, and because I wanted to chose an impactful act, I chose to offer people rides because I know how hard it can make things when a person is without transportation.

I was fairly sure that giving people rides would have positive effects on both me and the people I offered rides. I felt that the effects would spread beyond the duration of the actual rides because it could potentially affect someone’s entire day. I know that when I was taking the bus for hours every day, that if someone had given me a ride, it would have provided me with extra time to get things done, and also provide me with extra energy because it takes much more energy to walk a few miles and spend hours on a bus than it does to sit in a car until you arrive at your destination. This is important because it is difficult to be the best person you can be (to be a good parent, friend, student, employee etc.) when you are exhausted, and when something as simple as going to the store can take hours of walking and carrying heavy bags.

My methodology for this experiment was extremely important. This is because it can be a dangerous or stupid thing to let a stranger into your car. For that reason, I chose to only offer rides to women, the elderly, those with obvious health issues and infirmities, and people with children. I chose these groups because I felt that they did not pose a threat to my personal safety (i.e., could not overpower me in a struggle), but also because they are groups in whom I have some degree of trust. They are also groups who may be at a societal or financial disadvantage, and for that reason might be more positively affected by a helping hand. Finally, I brought my dog with me in the backseat, so that I had a buddy in the car if things went bad. In my neighborhood, many people are reliant on public transportation, so I knew that if I drove by bus stops, grocery stores, and laundromats that I would find people who needed rides.

The first person I gave a ride to was an older woman with many heavy grocery bags. She seemed very surprised and a little afraid when I asked her if she wanted a ride, but after sizing me up, she got in the car. I drove her a few blocks to her apartment, and that was that. The next day was raining, so I got out in my car and headed to the bus stops on the busy street near my house. I gave a ride downtown to a woman and her young daughter who were so happy to get a ride, and then to a woman who had difficulty walking home from the laundromat. People seemed to have more trust / less fear of my offer because it was raining- it didn’t seem as odd for a stranger to offer because the weather was terrible. A few days later, I gave an old homeless man a ride across the freeway bridge so that he could get back to his camp underneath the bridge. Finally, although I had “completed” my experiment, I gave a man and his two small children a ride from the 7-11 to the cell phone store. This was because I had gotten slightly in the habit of viewing my car as something I could share without self-detriment, and had begun to feel like it was a normal and sensible thing to do (obviously when I had the time and wasn’t late already, and also only when I felt completely safe letting the stranger into my car). Everyone that I gave a ride to was happy and said thank you, and everyone besides the first woman chatted with me about life and how much taking the bus or walking sucks. I know that if I see any of these people again, we will recognize and be happy to see each other.

I feel very happy about the results of my experiment. We are encouraged by society to not trust or help each other because there is an idea that doing so will be unsafe or take something away from us that we need ourselves. However, there are many ways to be kind and generous that are only enriching, not dangerous or resource-depleting. We are even coached to see offers of help as a manipulation or a threat, and sadly, sometimes this is valid. As a woman, I can’t even count the number of times some creepy man has seen me walking and offered me a “ride” in their car, and each time I wished that they were actually offering me a ride, and not to get in their car with strings attached to be assaulted, harassed, creeped on, or worse. So part of the experiment for me was to be the stranger who is actually only offering a ride. I think that as we are all in this together, we should do whatever we can to build trust with each other. And any amount of trust building has positive implications for everyone – if we trust each other, we are all safer. I also enjoyed how giving people rides became something I saw as a normal thing to offer to a stranger if the circumstances were right. It is something I will continue to do when the opportunity arises. When two strangers see each other without any interaction, there may be a second of recognition or judgement, but that is all. But when you have the ability to take that moment and turn it into two people who truly see each other and each other’s needs, then a bridge of trust is built. And anything we can do to see each other not as strangers but as people sharing a community is important to all of us.

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