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Thanks? Or giving?

On morning last week, I sprinted into work at my usual “a couple minutes late” speed with my hands full.  When I dropped into my seat at my desk, a co-worker popped up to fix the wonky collar on my shirt.  She apologized, concerned that I might be offended or embarrassed.

No worries.  I’ve done the same with complete strangers – sometimes to their dismay, but usually they appreciate the gesture – I think – after they get over their initial shock of a stranger’s hands on them.

Is it so wrong to just be nice to a stranger?

Scenario:  An unknown voice compliments your outfit in a store change room.  Your first thought?  “Are you talking to me?”  Because why would a complete stranger care how you look?  Or care to tell you?

More and more, strangers are something to be mistrusted – even in their hour of need.  In 2012 in Nova Scotia, when a nearly naked teenager in chains appeared in Alice Arnold’s doorway begging to be let in, she left him on her front steps before calling the police.

I can’t blame her.  Seeing someone in chains must have been surreal, not to mention frightening.  She’s a seventy-nine-year-old woman who didn’t know what she could be getting involved in or letting into her home that night.

Of course, she could guess.  It’s all over the TV.  Good Samaritans are tricked by unscrupulous characters.  People become victims just because they want to help.

It’s a staple of today’s primetime dramas.  And just as the preponderance of television violence can desensitize its viewers, people are learning to distrust with the never-ending parade of “what if’s” masquerading as crime dramas.

Perception which ran for three seasons from 2012 to 2015, focused on a schizophrenic professor, Dr. Daniel Pierce, whose genius insights into the mind allowed him to help the FBI.  In one episode, he asked his students, “Is heartless cruelty our true nature?  And empathy the aberration?”  According to Dr. Pierce, there is an “evolutionary advantage to simple human kindness.”  Apparently, early man could not have survived the cold winters without cooperation and assistance from others for food and shelter.

But it’s 2018.  We’re beyond that now.  So who needs it?

We do.

Because we spend more time texting than talking, working with computers than actual people, we tend to forget our connection to each other.  We may think we’re still the lone hunters, but we rely on millions of faceless people for our food, clothes, shelter, electricity, heat, communication and transportation.  So I hope our empathy is NOT the aberration.

This Thanksgiving, instead of just saying “thanks” for what you have, maybe you could focus on giving a little of yourself to one of those faceless many who are a part of your day-to-day survival.

Be nice to a stranger.  Fix her wonky collar.  Tell him his fly is down.  In the words of Dr. Pierce, “answering the call of an altruistic imperative can be its own reward.”

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