The rest of the trip to the studio proceeded without incident and I went in, did my job and, afterwards, the same driver picked me up to take me back. I asked him if he was French (he had a French accent) and he laughed and said no, that he was from Guinea but that everyone there speaks French. We talked some more and I found out he came to the United States a little over a year ago to study criminal justice and drives on the side to pay his bills. He plans to return to Africa and work for social justice through the legal system. His first week here, he was mugged on his way home from school by a group of men who punched and kicked him until he passed out while Brooklynites watched and taped on their smart phones – nobody helped him and nobody called the police. When he came to, his backpack had been stolen. Ironically, instead of a backpack full of cash or valuables as the thieves probably hoped, it was full of his brand new criminal justice textbooks. He called the police, who he said were kind but never found his attackers. He said people should be kinder here; that people in his hometown were kinder. He said now, when he walks around, he swaggers and mimics the look and walk of his attackers to ward off further harassment, even though it makes him feel silly. I thought of how he gave the homeless man money and about how excited he seemed when talking about his plans to pursue a career in social justice and of the mugging. I hoped the meanness he experienced here wouldn’t make him jaded. Don’t let cruelty kill kindness.
We had a nice chat and then he dropped me off. As I got out of the car, I saw a homeless man half passed out on the sidewalk and walked around him. About 10 steps away, I thought twice and turned around but the driver had beaten me to it. He had already gotten out of his car and was offering the man help. Even then, my initial thought was, “Oh, no. He’s so naïve. He is going to get taken advantage of.” But then, again, I thought, “Stop it. Be better. Don’t let cruelty kill kindness.”
Sometimes, when we are kind, the recipients of that kindness do react by overreaching or taking advantage or otherwise basically just being plain old mean and it sears more indelibly into the conscious than what – I think – is the more common scenario of reacting to kindness with more kindness. I work with a charity group that provides collaborative production experiences to new and emerging artists. We had a woman who aspires to be a writer take that kindness and react with inexplicable absurdity, demanding the whole production be given to her and her alone, never mind the other artists, also struggling, also looking for experience, who collaborated with her. She went so far as to call one of the group’s employers and tell the employer that the group member was “unethical” and ask that he be fired from his job. Her harassment left everyone shocked and appalled. As a result of her misconduct, the charity group has been considering putting a stop to these collaborative projects … never mind that the vast majority of such projects end positively and constructively with excited, happy, inspired artists who have expanded their networks and experience. I thought about that after speaking with this compassionate driver and contacted one of the Board members and advocated we not let this particular woman’s sad vitriol stop us from helping other people. Don’t let cruelty kill kindness.