The kindness of strangers


“We’re all strangers. Remember that and be kind to one another.”

That’s how Garrison Keillor ended The News from Lake Woebegone on today’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” and it reminded me of a line from the late Dixie Carter‘s character Julia Sugarbaker on “Designing Women.” I have no memory of  the episode—except that a couple of the title characters were rude to a woman they felt had slighted them, then felt bad when they discovered she was going through a personal tragedy—but I’ve always remembered the line: “We never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. That’s why it’s so important to be careful with each other’s feelings.”

Why is it so easy to be nasty? It’s not just the anonymity of the Internet. I remember maybe 20 years ago reading a “Dear Abby” letter from a mother who, as her infant daughter cried incessantly on an airplane, was scolded by a fellow passenger that taking a baby on a plane was tantamount to child abuse. “Abby,” the stricken correspondent wrote, “I was on my way home to bury my mother.”

We slam on the horn at the guy that cuts us off in traffic, shush the elderly couple talking in the theater, scream at the neighbor whose dog is barking, and we do it without the slightest consideration of these “offenders” as people. Just last night I left an angry note on a car parked in the middle of the two spots in front of my house. “How can you NOT see you’re taking up TWO parking spaces?” I scribbled furiously, without a second’s thought to what effect finding that note first thing in the morning would have on the driver’s day.

Fortunately, about ten minutes later, I thought better of it and replaced the note with a gentle suggestion that next time the driver might consider moving his car up a bit. I added a smile emoticon.

Because that’s how strangers should treat each other, assuming good will, not ill.

We’re all strangers. You never know. Be kind.

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