Unexpected Ways to Let Strangers Surprise You with Kindness

published3 months ago
4 min read

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“Is this how stupid people die?” I heard the voice in my head say as my fear spiraled a little. Okay, a lot.

The car was slowing down, and I had no idea if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Yet, I was clearly out of options. I was stranded, thirsty, and a long way from where I intended to be.

I never considered myself stupid. As this trip was one of my first international solo endeavors, I was cautious and meticulous in my planning. I had researched the hike ahead of time, planned the route home, and was prepared.

Yet here I was, about to be the cliched female hitchhiker that gets assaulted — or worse, killed. Who knew goat trails can look very much like human trails?

My heart sank almost immediately as soon as the driver got out. He was a heavy-set man, easily towering over my petite 5'1 frame. It would almost be too easy. There were no witnesses and there was nothing connecting us. He would never even be considered a suspect. Guess he wasn’t getting the kind, old grandma I was hoping for.

He walks over slowly as if trying to reassure me that he is safe. Then a huge smile breaks out. “Climber village?” he asks. Not a hard guess as most foreigners on the island were climbers.

I nod tentatively.

“I drive,” he responds while waving me over.

I take a deep breath and step into his car, half embarrassed that I’m caked in dust and leaves.

With his broken English, I discover that he was five minutes away from work but was going to drive me 45 minutes (a 90-minute round trip) to the other side of the island. Making him undoubtedly very late for work. Along the way, he tells me how welcome I am on his island and proceeds to stop to buy me an iced coffee to really drive the point home.

I bet he never thought about me ever again after that day, but that interaction was a watershed moment for me. It redefined the way I looked at the world and taught me something that has directed every major action I’ve taken since.

Everything You Desire Lives On the Other Side of Fear

At the end of that fateful day, I could reasonably have arrived at two conclusions — both of them correct.

First, I could have surmised that no matter how much I planned, things would inevitably go wrong, and I may not be so lucky next time. Therefore, I should stop exploring so as not to put myself in danger again.

Alternatively, I could have accepted that life is unpredictable. I should keep trying to think ahead but when something inevitably fails, the universe has my back. Therefore, I could explore even more than I realized because kind strangers are everywhere.

One thought fuels fear while the other provides freedom. I chose the latter.

From that moment on, I remind myself constantly that everything I desire lives on the other side of fear.

To be very clear, I’m advocating that you should take all precautions necessary to prevent putting yourself in a dangerous situation but not be so paralyzed by the fact that the world is out of your control to avoid exploring it altogether.

When you think about it, one of the main reasons the world stops surprising us is because we try to control every aspect of our lives. By building a wall around our world, we convince ourselves that we can protect ourselves from getting physically hurt, emotionally rejected, or even being disappointed.

It’s true that if you insulate yourself against everything you’re afraid of, you will decrease the possibility of getting hurt but you would also be one of the people Benjamin Franklin means when he says,

“Most people die at 25, we just don’t bury them until they’re 70.”

If you’ve been on the other side of the wall of fear this whole time but are ready to break through, here are some steps to help you allow the world in:

1. Use Your Fear Correctly

Even though I’ve traveled to dozens of countries, many times solo, in both remote and urban areas, the one and only time I have ever been mugged was in broad daylight right outside my childhood home. We’re talking about a place I played many times unsupervised for countless hours as a child and where I felt zero fear. As it turns out, this was exactly the problem.

Gavin De Becker is a three-time presidential appointee whose pioneering work has changed the way our government evaluates threats to our nation’s highest officials. In his book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin talks about how each of us has an in-built sensor for danger (our fear instincts) that has been clouded by external signals such as media and other people’s opinions.

For example, we often don’t try new things or engage with strangers because they violate our sense of certainty, which we mistakenly equate with safety. But the FBI 2019 Report showed that 5,747 murders were committed by someone known to the victim while only 1,372 was committed by strangers.

Here’s the interesting part — the problem with me that day and with people who are fearful of all strangers are actually the same. We incorrectly used our fear instincts. They are paralyzed by it while I ignored it.

Instead, Gavin De Becker tells us that there is a correct way to use our fear instincts. If we tune into it correctly, we can identify the various warning signals and precursors to violence and avoid potential harm.

If you've always found it difficult to engage with strangers, click on the button below to read the rest of the article I wrote on how to allow more opportunities for strangers to surprise you with kindness.

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May Pang 💖

Your future friend. I write to help you create deeper connections with yourself and others. Storytelling + Hard Science + Actionable Steps + Humor. Often with a dose of rebellious personal growth. Join 22k+ people on this fun ride. I don't always know where I'll take you, but I promise you it'll always be fun!

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