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Most People Are Good

Most People Are Good

My friend Danielle has a five-year-old-son. One day he came home from kindergarten, and Danielle asked what he learned. “We learned not to talk to strangers,” he said. “Because strangers are bad.”

“Really?” Danielle said. “Do you think strangers are bad?”

Her son thought about it and wasn’t sure.

“You can tell when you see someone in the city that you shouldn’t talk to,” she told him. “But most people are good, whether they’re strangers or not. The next time you hear that lesson, just ignore it.”

Danielle is a fairly unconventional parent, so she has no problem telling her son to ignore his teachers. And I think she’s right—why teach children to be afraid? Most people are good.

***

Another friend, Elizabeth, helped her six-year-old Grace make a Twitter account. A lot of people asked her why she would do that—aren’t you worried? Aren’t you afraid? But Elizabeth (and Grace) knows that most people are good.

Here’s a sample selection of Grace’s tweets; I hope she gets a book deal:

“This is the best day of my life. We went to the park, we’re going to McDonalds, I found a penny. The best day of my life.”

“Knock knock.” [who's there?] “Banana.” [banana who?] “Sorry I can’t hear you. I’m dead. Get it?”

“Mommy, look at the kitty. She’s a rock star.”

“If I were a grownup and was sick like this, I’d say the f word.”

“Mulan is very brave. I don’t know if people are brave like that in real life. Maybe Santa Claus.”

***

I like stories like these because they go against the prevailing wisdom that people are untrustworthy unless proven otherwise. But as Danielle told her son, shouldn’t it really be the other way around?

There may be some comfort in closing yourself off and being afraid, failing to trust until someone proves themselves trustworthy. Perhaps it’s the safer choice. But when you choose to believe that people are good by default, you might find that most of them actually are.

On a related subject, I heard Tim Sanders speak recently and he said: “Giving is a wonder drug. You are only alive in the moment of giving and sharing.”

Why not treat everyone with respect unless they show they don’t deserve it? It’s a numbers game. You can win it by giving the benefit of the doubt, and sharing your belief in humanity.

Question: When has a stranger been good to you?

###

Image: Wader

137 Comments

  • Love the concept…this is why I don’t watch TV news or listen to talk radio. Fear is a huge motivator and attracts attention, while optimism, positive thinking, relationships drive success. Be the broadcaster, not the broadcasted.

  • I love this post. When I taught middle school, I had breakfast duty each morning. For 5 years I watched elementary and middle school kids eat breakfast each and every morning.

    I learned a powerful lesson during this time. When I watched the elementary kids eat breakfast, they mingled with one another (race, gender, etc.). If one kid dropped his plate, five were right there to help clean up and offer a helping hand. You would often see these kids hugging each other.

    Something strange happened, however, by the time they made it to middle school. These kids no longer intermingled. In fact, each group of people pretty much kept to themselves. There was no longer the sense of love and helping for each other.

    This was sad to me and made me think about why these kids changed in just a few short years? Was it that society taught them that we are more different than alike? Did “school” do this to these kids? Did their parents?

    I don’t have the answer as to why this happened – just that it did.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Melissa says:

    If I never talked to strangers, how would I ever make new friends?

    On a recent trip (my first solo trip to a city where I knew no one), chatting with other guests at my hotel led me to a jazz bistro where I ended up meeting a nice guy. We chatted all that night and ended up having dinner together the next two nights I was in town. If I assumed that strangers were not to be trusted, I would’ve missed out on some really enjoyable dinners/conversations and making a new friend.

    In the end, trust your intuition.

  • Two weeks ago I was photographing an outdoor event that featured a series of school bands and I overheard a kid asking somebody if he knew where to find his band. I didn’t pay any attention to the first two people that gave a flat “no,” but after he asked two police officers and they brushed him aside, I finally went over and told the kid to follow me as I asked the event coordinator where his band was being staged. Three minutes of my time and I was able to walk a lost kid to his place in the trumpet section.

    The reverse of the closing question: When have you been a good stranger?

  • Strangers are good to me often, in small ways, and sometimes in more significant ways. I’ve lived and traveled in many foreign countries and I agree with you completely: Most people are good.

    The way you are treated depends on how you approach others yourself, and what kind of “vibes” you send into your surroundings.

    That said, you shouldn’t be stupid. It’s important to learn when and how you need to be careful in various (foreign) environments. A little education teamed with your instinct usually works well.

  • Fiona says:

    I spent 24 hours in Malawi – I was meant to be there for a week for a conference, but they over booked the hotel rooms and my room booking didn’t exist. I discovered this at about 11pm (my flight was delayed). In the end the best I could do was a room for one night and the next day I had to catch a bus from one end of the country to the other so I could catch a flight that would get me back home.

    On one hand it was an absolute disaster of a trip, but the kindness of strangers made it an amazing experience – from the taxi driver who drove me around for hours helping me to find a hotel, the foreign exchange man who refused to charge a commission because he wanted me to go away with a good impression of the country, the people who hauled my bags on and off the bus, the booking agents who sorted out tickets etc etc etc

    Strangers aren’t bad. Some strangers do bad things, just like some people we know (or are related to) do bad things. And there are just as many people who do the most incredibly kind, generous and wonderful things.

  • Kim Kircher says:

    Great post! In my work I get to help strangers. I’m a ski patroller and EMT. When a skier is hurt on the slopes, I introduce myself and ask if I can help. I’ve met some amazing people, and every time I’m reminded that, yes, people are good.

  • Harley says:

    Two years ago I met a stranger who would have given the clothes off her back and expected nothing in return. We ended up becoming friends shortly after.

    I think that if you open yourself to the world and trust in others that you will see that most strangers, are indeed good. Especially in the traveling world, trusting that others are good can be a necessity.

  • Marta says:

    I’ve had a stranger take care of me when I was sick on a train. I had a stranger walk me to the place I was looking for when I was lost. I’ve had a stranger make me laugh when I was bored or feeling cross.

    All of us are strangers too.

  • It’s incredible the kind of help people will give you if you just ask for it, or even if you don’t!

    When I was traveling last week, I (like the true absent minded buffoon I am) left my passport, as well as my boarding pass to get home on the counter of a food stand after putting it down to sign a receipt. A minute passed before I even knew what had happened, and an extremely nice girl that didn’t even speak my language tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that I had left it.

    I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for that girl. Nice people make the world turn.

  • I agree with your friend Danielle, I think we’re doing a great disservice to our children by teaching them to fear and distrust by default. A child who is not afraid to ask for help and to reach out to others and build a strong network is much more safe than one who is afraid to speak.

    One of the things that makes my day is when a stranger realizes I’m having a difficult time wrangling my small children in a check out line or waiting room and takes a moment to talk to them and occupy them so that I can fill out my form or pay for my purchases. It’s a little gesture, but so very appreciated.

  • Leigh says:

    This is a good reminder. I want to focus more on teaching my kids to listen to their gut rather than be ruled by fear.

    Strangers, for the most part, have been kind and helpful. The people that helped my kids and I get our luggage up the plane stairs. Anyone who holds the door open. I mean… we’re all in this together, right?

  • Donna Ciezki says:

    Several years ago I arrived at the Denver airport only to find out that the bus that was supposedly going to take me to Breckinridge was not running as often as I had thought. I was dismayed to find out that the next bus ran in approximately 2-3 hours. Needless to say I was not happy. A stranger overhead me complaining to the transportation employee and told me that he was going to Breckinridge and would be happy to take me where I wanted to go. I was hesitant at first but something told me this man intended no harm and his teenage son who was with him looked friendly as well. Needless to say I took him up on his offer and had a great little side trip. We stopped for something to eat and the man never took a dime from me even though I offered several times. I arrived safely to my final destination and never forgot that man’s kindness.

  • Mariam says:

    Just last week I ran out of gas while on vacation in St. Pete, FL. The kindest gentleman, Juan, who was on a break from work at Don Cesar, took me on his motorcycle to the gas station a couple miles away. Then he rigged a jug and a juice bottle to get the gas into the car. And he wouldn’t even take money or anything as a thank you.

  • Christy says:

    For me, I encounter kind strangers often while traveling. I think it’s great to live life with the belief that most people are good and it’s sad that our society teaches us to be afraid of everything. That’s why I don’t watch the news.

  • Shauntelle says:

    I am living the testimony that most people are good.

    Three weeks ago our condo building burned to the ground. My husband, myself, and my three children were left with nothing but the clothes on our backs.

    Since then we have had received an amazing amount of support and assistance from both our friends and family and complete strangers…. we live in Georgia and have had people from as far as California, Toronto, and Germany, reach out and send us donations of clothing, household goods, and gift cards. These were people we didn’t know, who aren’t even friends of friends at this point… seriously complete strangers.

    It’s a pretty amazing thing to have someone that you don’t know care enough to help you rebuild your life… and it’s very poignant proof that most people are good.

  • Kim’s post (the ski patroller) reminds me of my favorite “stranger” story:
    I was skiing up in the hills around my home here in Anchorage, Alaska. Actually, I was chasing friends of mine who had started skiing over “Powerline Pass” a few hours before. Pretty soon, I was cruising along near the pass itself and realized I was woefully unprepared for back-country skiing with my skinny trail skis. I looked down from the trail and it was about…oh, 1,000 feet down a slope. Steep. Windswept. Basically fall-to-die stuff. I kinda started freaking out, leaning into the mountain with every step. I slipped and fell–basically hanging on with my fingertips.
    There I was, in an impossible situation. It was a stunning day–blue sky, crisp…and I said to myself “At least it’s not windy.” Then…right on cue, the wind picked up.
    “Oh, shit,” I said. Right then, I started working on my prayer life. HAHA.
    I really didn’t know what to do.
    At that moment, two folks skied over from the other side of the pass. On their way, they stopped, picked me up and turned me around. Then they went on their merry way.
    They were strangers. Angels, really. True story.
    There are more angels out there than we know.

  • Craig Hodgins says:

    I think the point of teaching children to not talk to strangers is for the protection of the child when the stranger initiates the conversation and the child is alone. Many times children are approached by “kindly strangers” who want to offer a ride home or some candy from the back of the car. Alert children avoid possible disaster by refusing to take the bait due to their training.

    If the child is with a parent and feels safe, then talking with strangers is harmless and helps them develop social skills. But let’s not pretend there aren’t predators out there and that all children can determine who is truly good.

  • Mark says:

    Encounters with “strangers” while traveling have always been the best reinforcement of my belief in humanity. It always amazes me what a total stranger will do for another total stranger in the middle of nowhere. It happens almost every time I leave the US… random guy notices we are waiting for a bus that isn’t coming that day, then races us across Edinburgh to catch our train, refuses money, never to be seen again…. love it.

  • Laurie says:

    I’ve taught my daughter this concept despite what she learns otherwise. I don’t want her to believe that the world is a place to be afraid of. I was not taught this and had to unlearn the concepts I was taught. I’m glad she is starting off better.

    Interestingly enough, Chris, Spencer left Maine this weekend to walk across the country. He was at the Portland, ME book signing last fall, so I’m sure you remember him.
    Now, he embraces the concept that most people are good!

  • Terri says:

    “You can tell when you see someone in the city that you shouldn’t talk to,” she told him.

    A five year old? I get the theme, don’t teach kids to fear as a first response, but I guarantee you my 6 year old cannot “tell” if they’re good or bad. That is an adult decision. I tell my kids that most strangers are good but it’s hard for kids to tell. That’s why adults need to do the talking and see if it’s ok.

    All it takes is for the kids to be wrong one time. Now, the twitter idea is awesome! It’s risk/ reward. Can you get the reward of a less fearful life in other ways that are less risky than talking to strangers? Never felt quite so uncomfortable w/ something Chris presents…maybe I’m just still conventional in that way!

  • Carri with a C says:

    I was in a parking lot this weekend with my two year old grandson. He fell and skinned his knee in an open parking space. A car stopped just as he fell and I thought, “Forget it, you can find someplace else to park I am not moving–this kid just skinned his knee.” Instead of wanting to park, the driver got out and gave me a bandaid. What a wonderful thing to do, and I felt pretty foolish for my initial crabby thoughts. You’re right!!!

  • Dave brett says:

    The world is full of lovely friendly warm people it’s just sad the only people that get mass media coverage are those that are evil because fear and shock sells. Go out and explore the globe it won’t bite back

  • Kim says:

    Funny you should ask. We arrived in Portland, OR on Saturday with relatives from Canada who had never been to Portland. As soon as we sat down for lunch at a downtown restaurant, a group leaving gave us the leftover balance on their gift certificate. A great first impression of the people of Portland.

  • marianney says:

    I’ve been letting myself get so jaded with humanity lately, wondering if anyone out there still considered other people. It’s difficult when you’re in the throngs of traffic or crowds or whatever and it seems like every man is out there for himself. But this post really made me stop and think for a moment. Like how many times have people actually made an effort to hold a door for you, or returned something you’ve lost, or helped someone off a bus….etc. It happens a lot actually. Lately, I have just chosen to see the world through the “everyone is bad” filter.

    The story of Danielle and her son is really interesting. Children not speaking to strangers is so ingrained in our heads (or at least mine), that I never even stopped to think about it and how silly it really is.

    I know I’m a good person, why shouldn’t there be many more like me out there?

  • Jeremy says:

    Daily I am a stranger that helps people. As an adult I am now dealing with people of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. I am here to help but sometimes I feel the fear they have in me over me getting them out of the bad situation. I bet if we all grew up with the most people are good and let them help my job could go a little smoother.
    I have been helped by strangers all the time since I have lived in many cities and countries I find that well a stranger is just a potential friend most of the time.

  • I actually wrote a series with other bloggers on a similar subject of saying hello to strangers and turning it into an adventure or friendship.

    There has been so many times where I put down my barriers, greeted a stranger and ended up biking across indonesia or traveling 3 weeks down the coast of Australia.

    I never would have had those opportunities without those strangers.

  • mike crosby says:

    I had lunch with someone who says he lives in a bad area. I told him the area looked OK to me. He said during the day everything is pretty normal. But after midnight, that’s when the problems arise.

    He’s a security guard at this used car dealer where he gets to live in his tiny mobile home. He’s been shot three times and has witnessed many deaths.

    For me, when I meet people for the first time, of course my instincts have control, I tend to see the good more than the bad. I’m a glass half full kind of guy. And I agree, in the US we’re way way too paranoid. Shoot happens and we need to take risks, that’s how we truly grow.

  • A stranger is just someone you haven’t met yet

  • Greg Enso says:

    First, I 100% agree with Alex, the first commenter, about most t.v. news and talk radio! Turn it off! Choose optimism!

    As for strangers being kind, I was on my honeymoon in Baja Mexico a few years back driving my little Volkswagon Beatle rental just a LITTLE too close to the beach, when the car got stuck in the sand. I had to hike a half-mile down the beach to a small fishing village and in my bad Span-glish, I asked some fisherman if they knew of a tow-truck near.

    At first a few of the younger guys pretended to either not understand me or imply there was nothing they could do. Finally, an older patriarchal gentleman stepped in, said a few things to the group, and waved, “Let’s go. ” The whole crew hiked up the beach with me and helped literally lift my car out of the sand and back to the road! And they were all smiles doing it, as if the elder had reminded them of the universal truth that Chris speaks about.

  • Wijnand says:

    When has a stranger been good to me?
    Every evening for the past eight months!

    You are so right here. I am on a mission to prove exactly this insight by trying to walk 10.000 km through Europe and find a place to sleep every night with people I have never met before. I do this through the internet to show what social media is capable off in bringing people together.

    I am now 3000 km on my way and my experiences have been amazing. I have made friends in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal and I am sure this will continue all the way to Israel where I am headed.

    It is important for people like you and me who experience the goodness of others to keep on spreading the word. Human relationship should be based on trust, not fear.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Santi says:

    I live up to the point that i like strangers.
    Simple thing, some smiles given by stranger, sometimes giving me the reason just to smile thru the day. and that counts as a kind of a stranger. :)

  • Deborah A. says:

    If you haven’t seen it already, watch the movie “Grand Canyon”. It has a great lesson about strangers and their true potential!

  • Sibyl says:

    Great post and I totally agree. If we walk around expecting the worst of people, they will most likely not let us down. However, if we do as you suggest and always expect the best and focus on that, it is amazing what we will notice and experience. I loved this message. Thanks for passing it along.

  • Wes Roberts says:

    We were visiting our daughter in France during her college Junior semester there and through some unfortunate circumstances, her passport got stolen. So…we needed to make a mad dash to the south of France to the UN Consulate at Marseille in order to get a new one.

    Driving like the crazy American I still am at 70yo, we were facing a deadline, and lost. I rolled down my window and asked the first person if they spoke English (even through my daughter spoke perfect French…I did not). He said “Yes.” I asked him if he knew where the US Consulate was because we were chasing am important deadline. He opened the car door…got in…and directed us there…just in time.

    My wife an daughter made a mad dash for the front door, after the Marine guard understood why were here. I came back around to thank this man…and…poof…he was no where to be found. The Marine and I looked at each other in bewilderment as on that street no one could disappear that fast.

    So…as one of several episodes in my life I think an angel showed up. And then went on to other things. What was also wild, he knew about where we lived in Colorado. We realized later that where we were “lost” was a fairly dangerous place to be in that city. Even this morning I’m reflecting and going, “MMmmmm who/what was that man?” Stranger…or guardian angel?

    Keep up the good work, Chris! When will you next be in Denver?

  • Dean Dwyer says:

    The Wallet…

    So 10 days ago, I met a buddy at a coffee shop for a little mastermind pow wow. I reached for my wallet and discovered it was not in my coat pocket.

    I had biked to this place which was only about 1.5km away from my home and I had taken a bunch of back roads and a trail to get there, but the pockets in my jacket are pretty deep so I was pretty sure my mind did that thing it likes to do…it distracts me with something else and then tells my hands to take the wallet out and place it in some obscure place like the filing cabinet.

    I decided to stay and have my meeting and head home afterwards to find my wallet. Towards the end of our meeting (about 2 hours later) a women walks towards me and says, “Hey this guy just dropped off your wallet.”

    I assumed it must have fell out in front of the coffee shop near where I locked my bike, and the dude who returned it was getting back on his bike, so I rushed out to thank him.

    Turns out he didn’t realize I was in the store, and when I inquired about where he found it, he had told me he had found it on a small side street that I had taken.

    He went through it and discovered a coffee card I had (I had just received it the day before) and because he was a regular at this small independent coffee shop he figured the owner would probably know who I was and be able to return the wallet safe and sound.

    I was blown away. Not only did he find my wallet, he biked about a kilometer out of his way to drop it off at a coffee shop I was currently at.

    I thanked him again for his kindness and off he went. He seemed a little reluctant to bask in what I thought was a glorious moment.

    So it is with the everyday stranger who masks themselves as a hero.

  • Sweet article. Something to think about, for a few days at least.

  • Judy Wrolson says:

    Many years ago when my now 24 yr old daughter was 4 we lived near the lake and our front sidewalk was part of “the walk around the lake”. Also being taught about stranger danger she sat on our front stoop and proceeded to ask everyone if they were a good stranger or a bad stranger. “Cuz if they were a good stranger she could talk to them, if not she couldn’t talk to them and had to go in the house.” Again the child became the teacher-Not all people are bad. And how do you really know? I would not want my children then or my grandchildren now to live their lives afraid of everyone they meet and did not know.

    What a world to walk around in a safe and secure bubble and never meet a new friend. I live in a small community of 3000, most everyone waves, most everyone says hello, even if they do not know you. And it always takes twice as long as necessary to get thru the grocery store! Because everyone cares. I just spent some time in a large metropolitan area and continued with my normal ways, greeting, waving and saying hello. Almost everyone smiled back. Were they good strangers or bad strangers? Most were friends I have not yet met!

  • Stephen says:

    Most people are good. This is absolutely true. When my daughter lost her iPod at the aquarium, we spent an hour looking for it, asking everyone in sight about it, and finally accepted that it had been stolen. A couple of days later, I got an email from a wonderful man who had picked it up and then worked out my email address from my iTunes account. We got the iPod back, with all the irreplaceable pictures and videos still on it.

    But there are bad people. Here in London, most people have been approached outside Tube stations by polite young men, who offer tales of having lost their wallets, and needing a few quid to get home. One guy, obviously without a good memory for faces, has approached me more than once. I offered to phone one of his friends for him, so he could get picked up. He mumbled something and walked off.

    I agree that it’s not good to teach kids that everyone is bad. But I think we do need to teach them that while most people are good, there are some bad people, and those bad people can be hard to spot, especially for inexperienced people, and thus they should be cautious with strangers. A subtle difference, but an important one.

  • Two stories about strangers and the DMV:

    1. I was at the DMV in February struggling to put my new license plates on my car with a butter knife. A guy pulled up in his truck and asked if I needed help. I agreed and he got out his actual toolbox and got my plates on in seconds.

    2. My kidney donor was a stranger. He checked the organ donor box on his license registration, and my entire life has changed because of it.

    I like this quote from Stan Dale: “I’ve always been the opposite of a paranoid. I operate as if everyone is part of a plot to enhance my well-being.”

  • Lindsay says:

    New Yorkers often have the reputation of being unfriendly and rude, but when I lived there, I found that they were always willing to help someone in need. One day, while riding the subway home from work, I suddenly became very sick. I started throwing up all over the crowded rush hour subway car. Instead of running away from me, all sorts of people offered me tissues, plastic bags, mints. When I was finally able to stand up and get off the subway a few stops later, I collapsed on the platform as I stepped off because I was dizzy.

    I probably looked like a pathetic figure…disheveled, sitting down on the dirty platform, covered in vomit. I didn’t know if I would be able to stand up and walk up the stairs to hail a cab. I couldn’t call for help because I had no cell phone service. I felt so helpless. Then a woman walked by and stopped to help me up. She took my arm and led me up the stairs. Then she helped me sit down in a restaurant, got me a glass of water and went outside in the cold sleet to hail me a cab.

    I don’t know what I would have done without that woman’s help, but was so thankful for a kind stranger.

  • Mary says:

    My boyfriend was in a cross-country cycling race and I was part of a rag-tag understaffed crew. We got 3 hours sleep a night and had to do shopping and laundry in strange towns hoping to be picked up by our floating crew member. I was in a small city in Oklahoma in a laundry mat. It was about 120 degrees standing next to the bank of clothes dryers. I passed out from the heat and no sleep and no food and a group of strangers helped me up while another group finished my laundry. In my home city, my laundry was stolen from a dryer when I left it to go to the shop around the corner. So what I learned from that is I love Oklahoma. They are the best people ever.

  • Laurie says:

    “If I were a grownup and was sick like this, I’d say the f word.”

    Gotta love the honesty of little ones… I just about fell out of my seat laughing at that one!

    A number of years ago I went on vacation to Nova Scotia, a place I’d dreamed of visiting for years…and I was continually amazed at how kind and pleasant everyone was to a stranger from the U.S. Everyone called me “my dear” and went out of their way to make conversation, from the clerk at the coffeehouse to the guy carrying my luggage to the bus. It was awesome and I’ll never forget it.

  • Jennifer says:

    This is such a wonderful post, and such a great corrective to the prevailing culture that seems to view everyone as a potential danger.

    As a parent of a 7 year old, I recognise the dilemma of trying to teach caution and discernment while not destroying my child’s inbuilt open-heartedness. And a lot of it is about being out there in the world and giving my child situations in which he can take the lead and experiment, while I’m around to monitor and rescue if necessary. What I’ve learned through this process is that my child is pretty smart and closes down conversations with people he feels are untrustworthy, long before i need to intervene. And because he is open-hearted, people respond (on the whole) with similar spirit.

  • gwyn says:

    I love this post, and I too believe in the inherent goodness in people. Some may turn bad but most stay good. I talk to strangers all the time, always have and it has never gotten me in any serious trouble.

    I have too many stories to tell on this but two stand out at the moment. I had a bad year with my car last year and one of the breakdowns happened as I pulled into a strip mall lot to go to Starbucks. When I put the car in reverse to back into a spot there was a LOUD noise and the car stopped dead. Before I could even get out and try to comprehend what was happening a young man had run out of the Verizon store on the strip to help me. We determined the car was not going anywhere and he helped me push it into a spot. I called AAA and while I waited had my phone upgraded to a free smart phone. It made the bad news not so bad.

    I was working at a farm for a few years doing seasonal work in the garden center. An elderly man sat on some makeshift bleachers where we normally had plants. It was not very sturdy and he slipped and fell. I ran to assist him got him up and he assured me he was unhurt but that his hearing aid had fallen out. We searched for a while but couldn’t find it. It was dusk and hard to see. I took the man’s info and promised we’d call if we found it. I kept looking and there it was just as he was pulling out of the lot. I caught up to him and he was over come with joy. It made my day.

    The next time I came to work I was handed an envelope. A man left this for a girl with short hair and glasses. We figured that’s you. I puzzled and thought maybe it was the man. How sweet that he would take the time to drop a thank you note. When I opened it I was the one overcome. There was a hundred dollar bill in there and a beautiful note. I have that card framed as a memento of the goodness in strangers, and not because of the money.

  • Tracey says:

    What a lovely reminder Chris – thank you!

    We ARE all good… basically. Which is not what the media seems to believe, as others have mentioned too, but then who says we have to believe them?! I agree with another commenter: bad news sells, so that’s what the media feeds us generally.

    Here in the UK there is a great (comedy) program called Russell Howard’s Good News – a weekly round-up of funny/mad/good news from around the world – I love it :) We need more good news & more friendly strangers.

  • Palladian says:

    I’m so tired of living in a ‘Fear Sphere’ mentality and for what we are doing to our children. Yes, there are bad people and I’m afraid some of these bad people are parents who try to put a fence around their child thinking this is protection. The one thing that has to be protected is the mind/brain connection by ‘teaching’ the child all of the problems they may encounter in real life. I mean talking to the child! Children today live in an atmosphere of ‘fear’ without knowledge or control. I believe this creates great anxiety and fears of unimaginable depth.

    I have always said ‘knowledge is power’ … empower your children, don’t smother them because they do have to leave hearth and home one day and you want them to have all the tools they will need for survival.

  • Michelle says:

    When we first moved down to Austin, it was a total disaster – the day we moved, literally as soon as we were within 5-10 minutes of our new place, my car broke down. It wouldn’t turn on again, and I was freaking out because my precious cats were in the back seat and I’d already had the A/C off for the last 30 minutes because the car was overheating. We were parked in the median and I was visibly near tears when a tow-truck driver pulled over and offered to tow us. Called his boss and told him he was towing a friend and everything. It was awesome.

    One of my youngest impressions of kindness was when my mom and I were travelling and we had stopped at a fast-food place to get something to eat. There was a young couple in there, both distraught because…their car had run out of gas? (I think, I was really young – 5 or 6.) My mom overheard them and gave them some money so that they could get on their way again.

    If you’ll give people a little credit, they’ll surprise you with what they’ll do.

  • Thank you for this reminder, Chris. I’m on the road right now and everyone is delightful. Just met a man and his dog Fifi on a bridge and had a nice chat. Even the non-delightful people provide some sort of entertainment.

    My B&B innkeeper is so warm and helpful and reminds me why I like to stay in B&B’s when I can. It’s hard to have a nice conversation with someone at a front desk.

  • Liz K Zook says:

    I read a book once that had a short story about a guy that did this experiment to see how many NYC taxi drivers will actually rip you off. He did all sorts of different things, including pretending to be a foreigner and asking to get a ride to somewhere that was only two blocks away. It turned out that he tried this about a hundred times and only 2 cab drivers were a-holes.

    The cab driver that he had asked to take him only a few blocks away actually got out of his cab and walked the guy to the building that he needed to be at. I’ve always thought people were mostly good. And even those that aren’t that great, could just be having a bad day.

  • I loved this post. I agree that people ARE generally good, if you expect them to me. I’ve had so many strangers offer kindness that I find it almost the norm. Just last weekend, when I was lost driving in an unfamiliar rural area, I flagged down a pickup and a very kind man spent some time helping me sort out how to get where I needed to go.

    I also think we need to be careful to offer kindness to strangers. I remember standing in the Chicago airport once and seeing an older woman who looked confused and terrified as people whisked by her. I stopped and asked her if she needed help and then directed her to where she needed to go. Such a simple thing, but her gratitude was overwhelming.

  • Liz K Zook says:

    I just remembered the author. I’m thinking it was Robert Fulgham. I could be wrong, though. All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten?

  • I am a **huge** believer that people are generally good. This is largely the reason why I am a fearless world traveler. I have been rescued from car troubles by strangers, helped out of a pinch by someone I’d just met (in exchange they asked me to pet sit and gave me the keys to their house the same day!), and once when asking for directions (in Grenada), a stranger did more than point the way, they jumped in the back seat and gave us turn by turn directions! I return the favors in all kinds of ways, which makes for a truly fantastic collection of stories. :)

  • An old friend’s father taught her this and she shared it with me: “Everyone starts off at 100% with me, and only they can take away from that.” I have always said there are very few truly evil people in this world.

  • Justine says:

    I once was driving long distance by myself and my alternator died. A stranger stopped to help. He drove me 50 miles to the nearest town, helped me find the right alternator, towed my car to his friend’s house and put the alternator in for me. All with a smile and have a nice trip!

  • Liz says:

    Totally agree with many of the posters above, prevailing idea that people are bad, society is scarey, and people who don’t look like you are are to be avoided is totally wrong. I find, way way way more often than not, that people can sense the ‘goodness’ in others, and given the chance, will help out another person. I have returned a few found wallets, cell phones, etc., to shop owners when I have found them, just as I have had my wallet and cell phone returned to me when I’ve lost them. These stories should be what is one the news, so when an act of kindness is shown it doesn’t leave us all in shock that there are actual nice people out there after 28 minutes of negativity.

  • Lovely post! What nice things to be thinking, you have reminded me of many times when strangers were kind to me. The most remarkable was the police known as the Gaurdia Civil in Catalunya Spain, escorted us through Pamplona when I was about to have our baby girl. They put on sirens and flashing lights and we drove at high speed through red lights and all the way up to the door of the maternity hospital. They even parked our rent a car with our puppy in it for us and brought us into the hospital and spoke to the doctors for us as our Spanish was not that great. Thank you to those two men in Pamplona. Poppy was born at 8am the following morning. She is almost 6 now and she has her own twitter account!

  • Melissa says:

    Made me remember a rainy day when I was running to the MBTA without an umbrella… and a stranger came out of nowhere and carried his umbrella over my head while we both ran to make our stop. Most people are good… some are just awesome. :) Thanks for the reminder.

  • Most people are AWESOME!

    We’ve HITCHHIKED with over a hundred and fifty awesome persons. Well, one was not so awesome, but the rest were totally super nice! Check out “Acrobat of the Road” (google them, very inspiring), who is currently hitchhiking (best way to meet friendly strangers) from the south pole to the north pole! While I’m thinking about it, why not meet them and celebrate the awesomeness of good people when they cross north america?

  • Andre says:

    Strangers saved my life following a DUI car crash.
    If they believed in “strangers are bad”, I wouldn’t be alive today.

    I agree 100% with “Why not treat everyone with respect unless they show they don’t deserve it?”. I think it would make the world a much better place if everyone followed this basic rule for common decency.

    It is sad that some people and organisations exploit the primitive fear response of humans for their own gain.

  • Pamela says:

    Thank you for starting the week with this positive message! Life is full of good things and good people. All of the follow up comments just confirm it.

    The whole “stranger danger” mentality is pretty strong in the US- almost to the point of being ridiculous. I think some people are addicted to fear.

    When I recently took my 2 kids on a 5 week camping adventure across the southwest, we met a number of very kind people- people who gave us tips, advice, meals and shared conversation. Still, an overwhelming concern for friends at home was our safety. Of course there are a few freaks in the world, but I think you can teach kids to be smart, not scared. We trusted our instincts, and had a wonderful adventure.

  • rawqueen says:

    I am constantly amazed by the kindness of strangers. New York City is fabulous for such experience. I travel a lot so I have many occasions to meet new folks. Also I am a good bean and generally a good stranger. Inspired by this article. It makes me want to be a better stranger! Give thanks.

  • Great post, Chris! Most people are incredibly kind and generous.

    I love that Danielle and Elizabeth not only trust other people to be good, but trust that they’ve taught their own kids the same. So many kids I’ve met while traveling are the ones who’ve run up to me wanting to know where I’m from, what I’m doing and what I think of their country. They’ve added so much to my experience because they were intrigued by a stranger rather than fearful.

  • Mike says:

    I spent last week traveling around in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico with my girlfriend. Most of the people engage as you’re walking down the street are trying to sell you something – tours, hotels, restaurants, chotchkies, etc. After a while you get tired of politely telling them “no” and just ignore them.

    One afternoon, we were pretty exhausted after failing to find the right bus to get us to Isla Mujeres. The midday sun was hot (I now understand the reason for the siesta), we had our packs on, and we’d been looking and or waiting for a bus for about 2 hours.

    We gave up waiting and started walking in the general direction that we needed to go. A guy runs up to us and say “Hey guys. You’re American? Can I help you with something?” Initially we ignored him, because it sounded exactly like the kind of heckling we were used to getting from all of the vendors. But after a moment of reflection, I decided that yes, we /did/ need some help, and that this guys could probably give it to us whether or not he had something to sell. It turns out, he wasn’t selling anything at all, and he got us to exactly where we needed to go. How wonderful.

  • Roberta says:

    Thank you for this post and for the generous, awesome comments. I read every one and kept a few quotes – like the 100% one and the everyone is out to enhance my well being. We often receive what we give to the universe. Oh, let us give good things, thoughts and actions. Years ago, my sister and I were driving home in Mpls/St.Paul. We could not see the steam coming from our car but a pair of hippies (really!) in a VW Bug did – they motioned us over to stop (we were on an interstate between cities), had us follow them to their People’s Garage. while we waited for the car to cool, they told us how they fixed cars as well as showed people how to do a lot of their own car work.

    So very generous. Look for the good; these comments and the post itself reminds me of that.

  • So much truth to this. I’ll never forget a time at Tokyo Narita Airport, when 2 friends and I got to the airport literally 40 minutes before our flight to Shanghai was to take off. We frantically explained our situation to the Japan Airlines attendant at the check-in counter. She who then swiftly took our luggage, scanned us through the crew-only security checks, and ran WITH us in high heels down to the gate, bowed deeply in true Japanese style and wished us a nice time in China with a smile on her face.

  • binda says:

    I was driving (by myself) in a camper van in New Zealand and was looking for a holiday park. The woman at the Information station offered their congregation’s church for me to stay the night. It was amazing to have a kitchen, a place to spread out, and a bathroom all to myself!! They wouldn’t accept money, but wanted me to sign their guest book (of course!). Two years later, I still think of that time when strangers offered another stranger use of their church.

  • Niki says:

    It’s simple really. There will always be good people, and bad people, whether strangers or not. You probably wouldn’t believe this, but especially in today’s internet-era, sometimes I’ve found that I can relate much more to strangers, and even become best friends, than my own circle/vicinity of so-called high-school friends, or heck, even in my own big family members!

    I’ve had so many amazing experiences actually, that were it not because of my openness and a sense of ‘adventurous, free-spirited, childlike’ open-minded attitude, I don’t think I would’ve had those amazing, beautiful memories & experiences in my life! My life would probably become plain boring & dull, because I just stay in the often-called “safe/comfort zone”.

    The most amazing & memorable one was my 2005 trip to Japan, ALONE by myself! (even thinking about how ‘daring’ I was and all those sweet, adventurous memories can still make me smile again! =)). Most of my ‘traditional’ family members would probably label/viewed me as “insane/crazy” for: staying over at a stranger’s apartment (a Korean-American) I’ve found from internet, going to a temple alone..but I wouldn’t trade anything!

    You attract what you believe.

  • anne says:

    I was making my way to the OTIS College of Art and Design BFA show on Fri night. I tripped on uneven sidewalk and fell flat on my face. (I am now officially old).
    A wonderful woman came running over, got me a wet napkin to apply on my scrapes, talked me back to sense, helped me up… During that ANOTHER woman did EXACTLY THE SAME THING right next to me. And the good samaritan ran and got ANOTHER wet napkin and helped her up, etc.
    It was rather insane. I was wondering if we were in some nightmare art performance piece.
    I forgot to get names (I could sure use my fellow victim’s name) and want to send thanks out to the universe. That rescuer was awesome.

    LOVE the young Twitter tweets. THOSE I would read!

  • Erin says:

    This post came at the perfect time for me. For about the last year I have been writing letters and birthday cards to inmates. They are eventually going to have to integrate back into society and I think it’s important for them to have contact with people in the world who are just someone they can talk to without being judged based on their history. I do take precautions (I use a P.O. box, and I choose not to write to inmates serving two life sentences for a double homicide) but I really have no fear in just being a friendly stranger to them.

    I move about once every year and I generally use my parent’s home as my forwarding address until I am settled in my new home just to make sure nothing important is lost in the move. This weekend a letter was sent to their house from a State Penitentiary and my mom called me this morning really worked up because, according to her, I am putting myself in danger and she doesn’t understand why I continue to do such “reckless” things (I’m 23 years old and she is still calls to lecture me!).

    Are these strangers bad? Don’t good people do bad things sometimes? Should we ignore these strangers because their mistakes have been publicized?

  • K.S. Tate says:

    Years ago my husband and I had just moved to a new province so that I could attend grad school. We had just opened a new bank account, and were shopping for groceries. It was our first shop for our new place, so we had a lot of stuff. When we went to pay for it, though, our new bank cards didn’t work. Upset and unsure what to do, we were ready to walk away without anything when the woman in line behind us stepped up with her checkbook and offered to pay for our groceries. I was shocked and impressed by her generosity (the bill was over $100), especially when she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She paid our grocery bill and gave us her address, saying that she trusted us to pay her back (which we did, of course). This little chance encounter has inspired me to be generous in turn, when I see people who need help. This one woman changed my perception of strangers for the better.

  • ToddPDX says:

    Everyonee is a stranger. It’s a matter of degrees. And once you see that, meeting people and trusting them gets easier. Also, you will be hurt, betrayed, robbed, and deceived. Do you think this will only happen from people you don’t know well? Turn off the fear machine and connect.

  • Carolyn says:

    Right on. I think in many ways we get the world we expect. If we scurry down the street looking like frightened, paranoid mice, we’ll attract those predatory types who sniff out fear. Whereas if we look for the good in people and expect strangers to be kind we’ll generally get what we expect.

  • I think it’s a matter of how you choose to live your life. I think most people are so afraid of the worst case scenario that they end up missing out on getting to know amazing people or having valuable life experiences. You have to teach your children to use common sense and cation when necessary, but often times when things happen to us it’s due to chance. I’d rather enjoy getting to know someone new then to be fearful because I don’t know them. How else do strangers become friends?

  • Beth Cregan says:

    I totally agree. I always wanted my girls to trust the fact that the world is a safe place and that people, on the whole, are trustworthy and kind. Instead we focused on developing safe behaviour ie. not walking alone in the dark, heading down alleyways, getting into cars etc. This is much more proactive and it’s something kids can control- keeping themselves safe! An unsafe situation is much easier to judge than an unsafe stranger. The world is full of amazing people and I want to meet as many of them as possible. I have had some life changing conversations with strangers!

  • Khaled allen says:

    The first time I was traveling as a kid I got separated from my parents in the airport. A nice family found me and let me stay with them until the airline could find my parents. The son even gave me his whole pack of unopened lifesavers, which was such a huge deal because that’s a lot of candy for a kid to give up. For years after that I was obsessed with lifesavers. Very appropriate candy forthat situation.

  • Mac says:

    Wednesday afternoon, I lost my wallet while on a run in the park. The next morning I got a phone call with instructions on how to pick it up. I was assuming it was long gone, but a “good person” took it upon himself to find me. You’re right, most people are good. This is a good lesson. Still, the parent in me wants to protect my children from the evils of the world. There has to be a healthy balance between trusting everyone and trusting no one, right?

  • Alexis Yael says:

    I have received so much help from kind strangers (and given, I hope, as much as possible myself).

    A man once helped me run to catch a flight, dragging my luggage while I wrangled my toddler and his carseat (I had the toddler in a hip carrier). I would have missed the flight without that very kind man.

    He’s just one of us. We’re all strangers to people we don’t know!

  • absolutely. live from the heart and let go of fear.

    i work with youth who appear ‘scary’ or ‘bad’ with their lip rings and attitude and hoods over their heads. but give them a shot of love, a kind word, a smile, and poof!… it’s love all around!
    (ok, and a little persistence and patience mixed into that…)

  • Harry says:

    I just spent nearly 3 years cycling from Alaska to Patagonia. 16,000 miles through 21 countries.

    I have lost count, so many people have fed us, invited us in their homes, helped us, waved to us and whatever could be done. If I had time and space, I could list hundreds of anecdotes to complement the wonderful ones above.

    Only one time we nearly got robbed at gunpoint. Does that mean that all strangers are bad and we should have stayed at home? No just that one lazy idiot and he could never take the good feeling (nor our stuff) away.

  • Penelope J. says:

    When has a stranger been good to me?

    ALL THE TIME! In the street when I fell, when I got lost, in airports and train stations and bus terminals, in foreign countries, in bad neighborhoods, when I got robbed, stranded, alone and broke in a foreign country, when I got sick, when I lost my home, when I lost my business, my job, my money, etc.

    Shall I go on?

    Sure there were a few times when people took advantage of me, stole my things, abused me or threatened me physically, but they hardly bear mention when confronted by the overwhelming majority.

    Yes, most people are good.

  • Natalie says:

    I would expect that much wisdom from Danielle and that much graciousness from you, to pass it along. Thanks – you made my day.

    Although I think I am a nice person, I am constantly amazed at the kindness of strangers – and I add what I can into the karma pile – but my 9 year old is waaaaaayyyyy nicer than I am and my greatest fear is that I will train that out of him. The world needs nice, it has enough big and important already.

    namaste my friend…N

  • Dana says:

    I had a stranger in the park come find me and let me know that I’d left my tripod at the bench we sat at. I had decided to say hello and comment on the lovely day just a bit earlier, after sitting to change my film. Saying hello to a stranger was a great thing.

  • Chris says:

    For the past year I’ve been running a project on meeting strangers, getting to know them a little and taking their photograph.

    I’ve done this in three different countries and the result is almost the same – most strangers are good. In fact, they’re amazingly good, most of the time.

    Talk to strangers. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll discover and you’ll have adventures. It will also correct all those things that you’re taught at school about strangers.

    Remember – most strangers are good!

  • Bryant says:

    My best friends were all strangers to me first. I’ve made an incredible community at the farmers market, employees of book stores, bus drivers, etc. It makes the world smaller and more enjoyable. Thanks for the post!

  • Shareetha says:

    I like that Danielle is teaching his son that most people are good. I have a 5 year old son, too, and have struggled with what I should teach him in regards to talking to strangers.

    I was stalked when I was just about 8 years old and I was pretty intuitive as a child. I instinctively knew that the old man following me to and from school everyday was a bit shady. So, I told my Mom about what was happening and we got the entire school involved in better safety practices.

    I’m 29 now and I will always be concerned about my son’s well-being, but Danielle’s right. It’s important to give your children a positive (yet realistic) view of the world rather than promote cynicism and fear.

  • Jess says:

    When I was a child of 4 or 5, my mother and I took a day trip to Ocean City, MD, about 3 hours’ one way drive from our home outside Baltimore. My mother was young — 23 or 24 — and single, and didn’t have much money in those days. We had a great day at the beach and left in the evening. On our way home, the car overheated. We found ourselves stuck on the side of the road, far from home and not close to much else, either. A man stopped and asked us if we needed help, and when he realized our situation, he found us a mechanic and offered to let us stay overnight in his vacation home. My mother must have really hesitated! In the end we accepted his offer. He dropped us at the house and went … home, I guess. The next day he picked us up and took us to the shop, where our car was ready.

    I don’t know what we would have done without him. Slept in the car? Walked a long way to the shop? I don’t remember much of the experience — except being in the house, which was mostly vacant — but my mom always felt that she owed a lot to that man’s kindness that day.

  • Nathalie says:

    One of my “people are nice” moments was in the first few days of starting University. I was walking down some stairs inside the student center, and my shoes were wet from the rain so I slipped and fell (not so gracefully) down the stairs. Before I even knew what was going on, there was someone helping me up, and several other people around asking if they could help.

    This might seem like “oh well of course people will help when you’re down” but I feel like it goes much deeper than that.

    Oh, and I love how Elizabeth and Danielle are raising their kids, what great role models for women and children!

  • Katrina says:

    I’ve been saying this for years! Couchsurfing.com has been one of the best ways for me to illustrate this point when explaining this to people. Thank you so much for writing this. We need the shift in consciousness; it’s so much better when we get along.

  • Morgan says:

    @Kim Kircher, there is no better place to experience the goodness of strangers than on a ski hill. Everyone, from the employees to the volunteers to fellow skiers, are so reliably kind and helpful.

    The world is a mirror: most people are mostly good if I myself am mostly good. If I have been selfish, I notice other’s selfishness. If I have been generous, I notice more generosity coming my way. Call it karma, call it chosen reality, but yes, it’s true: most people are mostly good.

    One example of relying on the kindness of strangers:

    I had gotten my license only a few months earlier when I felt the then-unfamiliar “flump flump” of my very first popped tire. I hadn’t a clue what to do (and no cell phone, how did we ever survive?!). I hadn’t been on the shoulder for a minute before a pick-up truck, and two minutes after that, a cop, pulled in behind me. The cop held his flashlight as the gentleman in the pick-up truck changed the tire for me.

  • Danielle says:

    I love that you posted this! In my experience, I’ve met some of the best ‘strangers’ while traveling or just going on walks in the cities I’ve lived in, and my life has definitely been enriched from our conversations. When I’m nervous about meeting people or doing new things, I remind myself that people are mostly good, and its held true so far.

    I read several comments here about how children wouldn’t be able to tell bad people from good people, and I find that thinking highly suspect. As a child, until taught otherwise, you are inspecting people pretty closely to learn all you can, and will pick up on indications of danger that an adult might rationalize and ignore, in order to be ‘nice’ or uphold society’s expectations of adult social interaction. I’ve never let that stop me from leaving situations which I’ve deemed to be dangerous, and I think that as adults, we should set a better example for children, by showing them how to react to such situations and people, rather than only telling them to live a life based on fear. Even children younger than 5 years old are quite capable of picking up on unsafe situations, if you expect it of them and set good examples.

  • Anthony says:

    There was guy who I found when I was wondering around this park which I always go to think about things. He told me that what I was looking for was a fundermental shift in the way government thinks is structured and does business. He said that he and most other people would respect me but that I was too worried focusing on what I could not do instead of what I could do. He showed me that I was more worried about what others thought of me than of myself or doing what I want to do. For some reason when this guy said “be the very best you can be” it was just what I needed. I don’t know who he was but I was very gratefull to him.

  • carla says:

    I learned in my sociology classes that people are mostly good. It is an abnormal when they are bad – but it’s mostly the bad we hear about.

  • Laura says:

    I have had so many amazing interactions with “strangers” that it would be easier to answer when has a stranger NOT been good (because I don’t think I can come up with a single example). The fact that people are kind and generous is one of the three big points we make when we give presentations about bike touring. People are afraid that they’re going to go out into the middle of nowhere and be surrounded by crazies. But we’ve found that the middle of nowhere (or, really, anywhere) has always been full of helpful, friendly people who will blow you away if you give them a chance. Thanks for helping us all remember!

  • Ellen Berg says:

    I had a day when multiple strangers changed my life.

    I was driving home when I got a flat tire. Since I was close to a service station, I pulled in to use my fix a flat. I was tired, just off a day of working with 13 & 14 year olds, so I didn’t realize that I locked my keys in the car when I got out. With the engine running.

    I asked the mechanics at the station for help, and they tried to use a slim jim to open it. A lady came over to check in on me and to offer some kind words and a hug. Two other male customers came over to help and offered to let me use their phones to call my husband. The thing that taught me the biggest lesson, however, was the homeless man who dug through his pack to find a wire coat hanger to help me.

    I had the mechanic on one door, the homeless guy on the other. These people worked on my car for 30-minutes, and the homeless guy was the one to succeed. When I turned around to thank him again and offer him a ride or dinner, he’d already packed up his gear and taken off.

    It changed my life, the way I view people, and the way I see the world. Blessings are everywhere if we care to look. One of the best days of my life.

  • Jadyn says:

    I love this. I work at Starbucks and it sometimes amazes me that out of all the people we see in a day, there are not many that are actually rude. Sure, the ones that do behave badly are easy to remember, but overall most people are nice. It also still amazes me at times how much people will tip for just buying coffee – something that I really appreciate.
    My parents were big on teaching us to be afraid of strangers. While I understand their fear, I really hope that when I have kids I will be able to put aside some of my own fears and be a bit more like Danielle when it comes to parenting.
    Thanks for the reminder today.

  • Katy says:

    Last year I was travelling solo and got myself lost looking for my hotel in a town in Tuscany. I had walked some distance dragging my luggage and was worn out after a long journey and looking very dishevelled. I asked an old woman wearing an apron in the street outside her house where my hotel was in my intermediate Italian. She said I was on the completely wrong side of town. I turned to walk to the hotel and she said no no I will take you. She rushed inside whipped off her apron and then went down to a rickety old garage perched on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the countryside. Inside was the oldest CinqueCento I have ever seen. Darling Rosalba took me on a scenic route of the town explaining all the historic sights and deposited me outside my hotel. So sweet and so kind.

  • Dannielle says:

    To be honest, there are way too many to mention. I seem to find them everywhere, especially when I’m travelling. I really do think that most people are good.

    I always try to be a good stranger to others. Even just small things like giving a new packet of tissues to someone who is having a bad day, or offering your seat on the train to someone who needs it. Or stopping to help someone who is clearly lost. It can turn that persons day around.

    I’ve made some of my closest friends talking to strangers.

  • Good post, though I’m not sure I fully agree. It’s a difficult question – should we teach children that most people are good or bad?

    I guess it depends on your philosophy.

    On another note, I see you’re a fan of Dave Ramsey, Chris! lol. That Tim Sanders interview blew me away. I have already listened to it two or three times. I have so many blog ideas just from that one interview. So many thoughts swirling around in my head. Sanders is pretty amazing and that quote, “Giving is a wonder drug” has stuck with me as well.

    How often does the opportunity to give present itself to me? How often do I pass it by? I am missing out on the world’s wonder drug.

  • Yes, most people are good! I’ve found this to be true as I’ve embarked on a journey of 15,000 miles for awareness. Traveling through rural Texas and Louisiana thus far I have been the receipient of many random acts of kindness. People have actually picked up my breakfast tab, paid my hotel expenses, and so much more. These random acts of kindness have reminded me just how kind people truly are, and how important it is for me to display kindness at all times.

  • Itai says:

    Most people are good, yes, but people do not tell their children not to talk to strangers because they think most people are bad. They tell them this so to avoid the few ones that are (and reading the news we know there are too many of them).

    It is just like using a seat-belt. We put it on not because most times we have accidents but for the rare times when it does happen. Even if we never have accidents, most of us use seat-belts, just in case.

  • Andy says:

    Love this, and that Tim Sanders quote. It is so true. Sharing and giving are the only things that make life real. Strangers are good to me every day, I wouldn’t have ever played a gig had it not been for strangers – it is connecting with new people that gives my job purpose.

    The old cliche is true that strangers are probably friends you haven’t met yet (and wont meet if fear wins). It’s also funny how a uniform automatically changes the perception of a stranger. It ties into our inbuilt fear of the unknown, the way we react to people certainly depends on what they are wearing (their level of strange-r-ness).

    We just have to remember that we too are all strangers. Everyone is. Would you want to meet yourself?

  • Marc says:

    I was in a fairly dodgy area of Bangkok once, where I love exploring with my camera. I was about to head down into an even rougher area, and I felt a hand on my arm. It was a westerner, mid 40s, who said “I wouldn’t recommend going down there. I know you will anyway, but just be mindful.” He then disappeared back into the crowd.

    I was really struck by that. That someone would see me with my camera about to head into a rough area, know that there was probably no stopping my curiosity, but took the time out to give me that warning. Well, not really a warning. More a protective blessing. I was so shocked by the random kindness and concern that at the time I didn’t say anything but a mumbled thanks, before he was away in the crowd again.

    I wish I could thank him properly for his time and his concern, for crossing the boundary between strangers and express his concern for my welfare. What an amazing guy. That was ten years ago and I still smile when I think of it. Wherever you are – thanks!

  • Thank you for another contrarian and true post.

    For those of use trained in the Global Village Beige urban mindset where strangers are not trusted, a visit to Arabia is sobering. Desert survival has made people here aware of our mutual interdependence, and this remains apparent in modern life.

    Recently we drove the epic cross-desert route to Salalah, our isolated hometown here in Oman. A tyre blew up and flew off the car, leaving us stranded by the side of the road. Not a soul in sight, from horizon to miraged midday horizon.

    Before we could take out the toolkit and spare tyre, a local man appeared out of nowhere and took matters in his own hands. Within ten minutes we were back on track, and he vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

    Yes, there is talk of jinn, magic and mystery… but the kindness of strangers should not be mysterious. It is our true nature.

  • Liane says:

    Wow…thanks for this post. When I have taught similar lessons to my kids about doing what many other parents consider uncoventional or unsafe I am criticized or made to feel like a bad parent. I so agree with your point here. I even bought domain names for my kids with their full name so that when they are ready they can create any kind of online space they want, a blog, a digital portfolio etc. People thought I was crazy as if by doing this someone was going to hunt them down and kidnap them as a result. We are teaching kids to live in a bubble and be afraid when we need to help them be self directed, confident, trusting and able to make appropriate judgments about people and situations.

    I love the twitter example with the 6 year old!

  • Great stories to point up this vital concept, Chris!

    We have two choices: either we are all strangers, or none of us are strangers.

    Peter

  • Becky says:

    I was in Japan during the earthquake and the Japanese people were extraordinary. They gave my group blankets (we were outside), umbrellas, towels to sit on and when we arrived at the airport with no where to go for two nights they gave us sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and food.
    I know in the past (think WW II) they were not “nice” at all, even barbaric, but today they are humble and kind. Would not have made it through with 13 college students, husband and guide if it were not for the kindness of Japanse strangers.

  • Andrea says:

    Yes! Better to teach them to listen to their inner guidance, and they will know when someone is “creepy.” Better yet, expecting the best of life/people, they probably won’t meet up with the creeps at all. Besides, kids are better at listening to that guidance than we are. Please don’t train them to replace it with you, their teachers or the government instead!

  • Sophia says:

    Great post and a good reminder.

    As a Couchsurfing host, I am reminded over and over again that people are good … in fact, most people are also pretty interesting and have a great story, if you just take the time to ask and find out.

  • I’d much rather give people the benefit of the doubt and be taken advantage of a handful of times than lead a life of cynicism and fear. If people see that you trust them, they often don’t want to lose that trust and work to earn it. If people see that you distrust them, they realize they’ve got nothing to lose and make no effort to earn a trust so elusive.

    I was on a bus outside of Sydney coming back from Malibu beach. We only had enough small change to cover two people, but the bus driver, who we’d never met and who didn’t have change for our big bills, offered to let the third person ride for free and cover us if a transit authority got on the bus to check tickets.

    Why would a stranger cover for us? It is one of my favorite memories from those two months in Sydney.

  • Jenny says:

    Wow, I just loved reading everyone’s stories. It’s good to turn conventional teaching on its head and see that it’s the right way to go!

  • Juliana says:

    I have basically agreed with 100% of everything you have ever written …I think you are right on the money and an amazing resource of inspiration for me …BUT… I get what your saying but as a mother of four …ages from seven to eighteen….I have seen how an innocent start on the internet can turn ugly quick. I have all the love in the world for all but when it comes to the internet all bets are off where my children are concerned. I have seen first hand all the sick predators out there who do nothing but prey on children and spend all their time looking for a weak moment. kids and the internet just dont mix. unless that is, guaranteeing no strangers can find them.
    Your thoughts may change on this when you have children someday yourself ! I still think your awesome !

  • Matt R says:

    Yeah, this hit really close to home because all my life I’ve been told strangers are terrible and they’re going to eat you alive and do all these terrible things to you!

    However, I’ve taken things into my own hands to realize that people aren’t so bad. Most of them are actually good.

    Cheers,
    Matt

  • I love the stories here. So many of them seem to occur while traveling. I think that’s because we ourselves are more open when we’re the strangers. When we’re in unfamiliar territory. At this point in my life I experience the kindness of strangers every day. It’s in the food someone grew for me, trucked long hours, unloaded… You get the picture. Everything we have in our lives that we think of as ours comes in part through the efforts of others. You can say that the person who grew my food got paid. But from buying at farmer’s markets I know the labor and labor of love that goes into my food. It’s true of everyone who somehow contributes to my life’s needs, ease and happiness and that of others.

  • Amy says:

    Traveling through Atlanta several years ago, we were racing to catch the Marta after eating lunch. My 8-year-old son made it on while I was lagging behind with my 4-year-old. The doors slammed shut with me on the other side, and despite my pounding and screaming, he just left from beneath my hands into a tunnel under a city none of us knew.

    Of all the faces staring at my panicked outburst, his was the only white one. It would have been easy to let fear or even racism take over, because he just looked so out of place and vulnerable. My brother managed to share a “thumbs up” with one of the women standing near my little boy, and I knew she wouldn’t leave him to solve this on his own. That exchange calmed me down. By the time we tracked my son down on the next platform, she wasn’t the only one standing watch over him. A whole group of concerned women had gotten off the train before their own stops and were standing in a half-circle around him. It was the most gorgeous group of angels I’ve ever seen, and I’ve never been more grateful and endebted to anyone in my life. I wish I could hug each and every one of them.

  • Duff says:

    5- and 6-year-olds have a tough time with sophisticated exceptions to categories. It is in fact common enough for pedophiles to target children through deception both online and off, and kids need to be taught some street smarts without having to go into the details which they wouldn’t understand.

    On the other hand, most physical and sexual abuse—of both children and adults—occurs from people we know, often quite well. We are far more likely to be murdered by a family member or good friend than by a masked man breaking into our home in the night.

    Perhaps we should be much more kind and welcoming to strangers (except those that give off a psychopath vibe which we should be ever-aware of), and much less so to family, or at least make sure to extend our wariness to those whom we’d never expect to harm us.

  • Janice says:

    like Blanche DuBois, I have often relied on the kindness of strangers; and what is that lovely quote, “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.” Of course you have to be mindful of potential dangers, but like the seat belt analogy, you don’t stop driving the car because you might get in an accident. Which brings to mind and sounds like it’s off-topic, but really isn’t……the mother who drives her kids to school to “protect” them texting all the way….

    Hmm.

  • Rob Clinton says:

    Exactly… Amazing that we squander our children’s curiosity by telling them everyone you don’t know is bad. There is so much to gain, but when you place the mental image of a corupt world in a child’s mind it does nothing for the world. As a matter of fact, it cripples the world even futher. My little one Nicholas likes to make origami’s (and other things), and recently he’s been recording videos of him doing so for blogging. I can’t wait to see where this goes as we continue to allow him to unfold his creative nature.

  • Alisha says:

    I was just talking the other day about how I feel there is more good than bad. I recently had male strangers be nice to me and watch over me as I spent a portion of the night in a Colombian bus station. While many others thought about how dangerous that could have been, I thought about the kindness of strangers!

  • Kathleen Charter says:

    I was in a small local store the other week a queue of strangers behind me, it was busy and people were restless. All my items were rung up and I went into my purse to pay and found I had no cash or card. I was beginning to get anxious when an nknown stranger in the queue behind me helped me with my bags paid for the goods and helped me out the store. I am afraid to say I could hardly believe this kindness and we exchanged numbers and contacts and i sent the person a cheque in the post. when asked why he was moved to help, he simply said why not? his graciousness was wonderful. Random act of kindness to the max.
    We are all under the same sky and essentially share the same water we are connected.

  • John Sherry says:

    I live right near a school and the other week we had clear roads and no traffic as it was a holiday. This week the normal mayhem as every parent in the city seemed to want to take Pete or Sally to school. Why? Some parents I know told me it’s because there is so much traffic! THEY are the traffic but insist not and find every fear from paedophiles to slipping on icy pavements which could damage their child’s brain that means they have to drive a quarter mile. And who is hearing this, seeing it, reading it every day in their actions and behaviours and taking it all in to repeat some day? Yep, the poor kids. When parents can let go a little their children might just get to see the most marvellous world!!

  • Richard Pook says:

    Somehow it does seems acceptable to be rude or short, or ignore people these days. Maybe it’s a part of keeping out of each others ways for safety in big cities, but helping people, and being kind to people is at the heart of being a human being. Just like the school teacher said in the earlier comments, something seems to take us away from this natural sensitivity. I helped a blind lady cross the road the other day. It was a honour to do, and she was very appreciative and I felt “good” for the rest of the day.

  • I taught my kids that people are mostly good, but I also gave them the chance to learn to trust their instincts by giving them little scenarios and tasks in controlled settings. Because, after all, there are going to be times they *need* to talk to strangers. Why cripple one’s kids with unfounded fear?

    So, in a grocery store, for example, I’d ask them to find out from any stranger what time it was. They invariably picked someone who was not at all scary, and stayed away from people who raised a subconscious red flag.

    They are both adults now and meet the world head on. My son is a firefighter/EMT and even off-duty, he often *is* the stranger kids gravitate to when in need, and my daughter is an artist who has a knack for making everyone around her feel comfortable.

  • I have received many kind acts from strangers while traveling, especially in Europe. People are basically good at heart, but the fact that there are some people who are truly evil makes us be more careful and less trusting of strangers.

  • Sandra Martin says:

    I’ve had so many “strangers” be kind to me, both while traveling and here at home. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, where being kind and showing the Aloha spirit is part of the culture and seems to take up residence in all who move or visit here.

    If you want to read more good news, you might check out heroicstories.com. Their motto is “Restoring Faith in Humanity…One Story at a Time”. They will make you laugh and cry, but always leave you feeling better about the world we live in. (Note: I am not affiliated with them in any way, except as a subscriber & reader of the stories posted.)

  • Ruth McLauchlan says:

    Kids face the greatest dangers from family members and friends. Maybe the best approach is to encourage the development of one’s inner radar so that children learn to trust those inner feelings triggered by the energies swirling around us. Rational thought that conveniently categorizes people by logic – e.g. family member = good, stranger = bad – is often completely divorced from reality.

    The more we can trust our inner awareness, the more we can open our hearts and minds to the overwhelming kindness and decency of people everywhere, including those who seem very different from us. Folks in power – within families, institutions, nations – who wish for their own ends to have some measure of control over our lives profit mightily from promulgating a climate of fear and anxiety. When we implode the myths of ‘us vs. them’, we gain the freedom to traverse our personal worlds – anywhere in the world – with both protective self-awareness and liberating joy in the celebration of each other.

  • Kim Kircher says:

    @Morgan, I love your words: “The world is a mirror: most people are mostly good if I myself am mostly good.” Isn’t that so true? In so many ways, the world is a reflection of ourselves. I’ve always believed that of experiences, but had never extended that thought to other people as well. Thanks for opening my mind.

  • Stare Clips says:

    Part of growing up is unlearning all of the things taught in childhood. This isn’t because those things taught in childhood were “wrong”, but because they were age appropriate.

    As a child, you’re told not to try driving the car. When you get older, you are encouraged to do so. As a child, you’re told not to run away from home. When you get older, you are encouraged to leave the nest.

    It’s OK to teach children that people are basically good, but the reason you tell a child not to trust other adults other than pre-selected adults by the parents (teachers, babysitters, etc…) is because children aren’t adults. A child doesn’t have the ability to discern a good person from a bad person. A child often has a hard time saying “no” to an adult during times of inappropriateness whereas most adults can.

    The message isn’t to teach your children that everyone is bad. The real lesson is that children don’t yet have the ability to discern good people from bad people. Many adults still struggle with this one. If your child understands right from wrong, can discern which people are trustworthy, can make business deals without being swindled, and can drive a car… then he/she must be an adult.

  • Allison P says:

    One day I went to Noodles & Co. after school but I forgot I didn’t bring my wallet with me so I was about to leave and the woman behind me bought my meal. After I went and sat down her little daughter brought me the cookie I was going to buy so I offered to share it with her, even though she refused it was a really sweet thing to do! RAndoM nice PeopLe maKe My DaYs!

  • David says:

    As a kid, I saw it both ways, within about ten minutes.

    Back when they actually used to pump your gas FOR you, I was a pump jockey.

    A guy came in and asked me for five dollars worth of gas, which I dutifully pumped. He handed me three dollars. I said “Uh, sir, it’s FIVE dollars”. He said he’d said he only wanted three. My word against his – and it’s not like I could take the other two dollars worth of gas OUT. Guess where the other two bucks was coming from? Yup. My paycheck.

    A few minutes later someone came in with out-of-state plates and asked me to fill ‘er up. I did and it came to ten dollars. He paid with his credit card and drove off. A few minutes later he came back and asked if I’d charged him correctly. As no one had been in since, I pointed to the pump and said “Yeah – see? It still says ten dollars”. He pointed to the OTHER side of the pump that said FOURTEEN dollars. I was sure which side I’d pumped it from, but he wrote his name and address on the credit card receipt and told me that if I came up short to let him know and he’d send me the other four bucks.

    You could have knocked me over with a feather.

    Thirty some-odd years later, I STILL remember that kindness.

  • Barb says:

    We left Maine in October, 2010 to begin sailing around the world. We sailed down the US coast, through the Bahamas and are now in Antigua. Along the way we’ve been told to avoid certain cities or neighborhoods. We’ve met good people everywhere. We greet them with a “Good morning” or “Buenas Dias”, look them in the eye and smile. We don’t take unnecessary chances, but we don’t limit our experiences based on when others feel safe. We have never been disappointed. People have given us directions, offered us rides, found the right bus for us and helped me have the right change for the bus driver. I exchange recipes and get advice on local ingredients. People are good.

  • Victoria says:

    I am an American living in France for over 15 years and I found myself unemployed for the very first time in my life during the 2009 financial meltdown.

    After months of searching I finally cracked and headed down to the unemployment office. I was feeling like the world’s biggest fool and oh was I stressed.

    The people at the Pole Emploi were WONDERFUL. Professional, helpful, they really went out of their way to explain how the system worked. And, at one point, the lady who was helping me took a good long look at my very stressed-out and unhappy face and she gently suggested that I take 2 weeks vacation to get my head together and relax. I just about cried. And I did exactly as she said and I felt much better and eventually did find a job. To say that I am grateful would be the understatement of the year.

  • Susan says:

    Last week I pretty much passed out on the NYC subway platform (long story, but I’m fine) and I had no shortage of people trying to help me. One guy in a suit on the way to a meeting stayed with me until the paramedics came. They just to checked me out to make sure I was okay, and we were all on our way within a half hour or so.

    People in NY are the nicest anywhere. They’re just in a hurry and stressed, but you will always find someone who wants to help.

  • Sarah M says:

    I loved this post, Chris and all the comments proceeding it.

    I LOVE to travel for several reasons, but the main drive is meeting new people, interacting with them and learning their story(ies). I thrive on that connection and being reminded of the positive human nature. When I don’t know where the hell I’m going, where to eat, or how to say “Cheers” in a new language, there has never been a shortage of people to help me out. My mother says I’m naive, father thinks I’m stupid, I think I’m optimistic. And so far (27 years later), that’s worked out for me pretty well.

    Keep the wise words and intriguing questions coming!

  • John Smith says:

    I understand what the author is saying, but I disagree. I have a 3 year old daughter, I am special operations in the military (I can not say which). I have learned to be cautious of everyone. I feel, personally, that it IS better to be naturally cautious of other people…not aggressive, but cautious. It’s better, in my opinion, to not trust other people, than to learn that lesson the hard way. I also feel until some parents experience something horrible like that they might not understand it; just something to think about.

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