Let me tell you a story…
The other day, I popped into a local store for some basic groceries, a small Spar centre that I frequent regularly enough to know the staff and even a few of the car guards* in the parking lot.
*Dear international readers: In South Africa, we have “car guards” at our shopping centres. They’re a lot like this:
I was in the store for just over half an hour, and I came out with a trolley lightly loaded with only a few bags. I typically don’t like to carry cash, so when I plan ahead, I try to buy a Coke or a snack to give to whichever car guard I end up dealing with.
As expected, the moment I emerged from the store, a new young guard appeared at my side, as if from nowhere. He took my trolley and pushed it alongside me to my car, making small-talk along the way. I opened the car trunk, and he hoisted the bags into it for me. I dug deep into the one bag and pulled out a 500ml Coke, a modest gift of thanks for his service.
“I don’t carry cash,” I explained, as I usually do. “So here’s a Coke.”
He looked confused. “Is it for you?” he asked in broken english.
“No, it’s for you.”
“Do you have another one?” he probed.
I was taken aback, not sure if he was asking for another cooldrink to share with one of his friends. “No,” I replied, trying not to be offended. “I’ve just got that one. It’s for you.”
“Oh.” He looked deflated and held the Coke out to me, a gentle look in his eyes. “You should have it then.”
As it dawned on me that this young car guard, not understanding my modest gift, was utterly concerned about taking my Coke, I felt a cold, hard corner of my heart shatter open, and an oddly unwelcome love flooding into the dark recesses beyond.
He obviously thought I was giving him my own Coke, like taking the coat off my own back and draping it over his shoulders… and he couldn’t bear that. There was no pride in his eyes when he gave that Coke back to me, only kindness and concern… and humanity. I couldn’t believe it. I made him take the Coke and I drove away in my own personal cloud of disbelief mixed with heartache and shame.
When I see someone as poverty-stricken as this young car guard, I expect them to be a “taker”. Someone who wants something from me; someone I must be vigilant about; someone who I must, at all times, perceive as a threat. The last thing I expected was someone who cared for my well-being, and someone who had qualms receiving a tiny gift from me.
The last thing I expected was a decent human being. The last thing I expected was to walk away, inspired.
It’s occurred to me ever since this encounter that I may have economic security, a nice home, a car, a pantry full of food and warm clothes to wear this Winter, but this humble young man had something which many of us could stand to acquire: Thoughtfulness and Concern for Others; True selflessness; An understanding that Kindness to others is better than Accumulation for self.
Each and every moment offers a decision between basic human decency and personal gain. It can a challenge to find the balance between self-preservation and living generously… but is it something that we actively and diligently consider each day? Or do we simply play it safe-and-lazy by living out each moment as for ourselves?
But imagine the world we’d enjoy if more of us lived considerately – giving consideration to each moment, with the intention of doing that moment justice.