The Kindness of Strangers

Posted by jlubans on June 02, 2015

20150602-chase.jpeg
Caption: Stopp!

Eighty kilometers south of Tartu, Estonia, we found ourselves stranded in Valga. I last saw our bus from about 50 yards back as I ran after it, waving my arms and yelling for it to Stop! (or Stopp! in Estonian.)
No big deal, a sunny day, surely another bus would be along soon? We’ll laugh about this in a day or so.
True, but the missed bus had my backpack and our suitcase on it. And if the driver did not drop those items off in Tartu – why should he? - then they’d wind up in St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, Russia. Imagine how long it would take, if ever, to get those items out of Russia.
So, after recovering our breaths - the absconding bus still visible a quarter mile down the highway - Sheryl and I schemed how to catch it. Perhaps a private car could head it off? But reason prevailed. The bus driver didn’t stop when he could see me in his rear view mirrors, so was unlikely to stop for someone waiving him down from a speeding car! Besides, where was I going to commandeer a private car?
Our next thought was to get a message to the bus terminal in Tartu so the agent could get our luggage off. We asked a taxi driver but he did not speak English. He did tell us there was either a train or a bus in a few hours, pointing to a video display on the side of the shared train/bus station building. This was Sunday so not many people were around; the station ticket offices were closed.
Then we spotted a young red-haired woman on the train platform. She said she spoke English “a little bit.” She quickly understood our predicament and willingly googled the bus company’s numbers and called, first to Riga (our starting point) and then to Tartu, speaking in rapid Estonian.
A complete stranger, she helped us. She arranged to have the luggage taken off the bus and left at the Tartu bus station. “These things happen,” she said consolingly. With a wave, our angel got into a waiting car and went out of our lives.
Waiting for the next bus - in the dappled sunshine of a little park in Valga - I thought about kindness. And that I tell my classes early on about how and why humans cooperate, that our inclination is to help each other. Stuff may get in the way of our doing so, but our first reaction is to help. And, I go on, our willingness to help strangers is why we have survived over the millenia. Undoubtedly, there are humans with more of the selfish gene (if it exists) and less willing to help – the jerks – but for the most part we have an innate desire to help each other.
Our abandonment and rescue in Valga relates to an anthropological study discussed on NPR.
The lead author explained: "Sharing and cooperation is crucial to survival … So [tribe members] evolved mechanisms to cooperate with unrelated individuals."
The researchers studied existing tribes of hunter-gatherers and their cooperative relationships with non-family members. There’s a very practical reason: “hunters only find food about 75 percent of the time. That would mean a family would go hungry one day out of four. But that doesn't happen because unrelated neighbors learned to share their food.”
And interestingly there was support in this study for the “Collective Intelligence” result of another study on why some teams are smarter than others. That latter study found that, among a couple other factors, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men.
The anthropological study found that when males and females have equal roles in decision-making – including which tribes to join – the result is an optimal mix of family and strangers. Instead of rejecting anyone not a family member the mixed tribes of family and strangers cooperate and strengthen their likelihood of survival.
While our red haired angel of Valga is far away from the Palanan Agta tribe of the Philippines and Congo's Mbendjele BaYaka tribe, still there’s an exclusively human link - the kindness of strangers.

© John Lubans 2015

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Comments

Posted by Miriam Holley on June 02, 2015  •  12:51:43

I have always thought and lived by the rule that kindness (of any kind) is life's greatest wisdom!....and a family saying in our house growing up was: an error in kindness (even if you do the wrong thing trying to help) is NEVER an error....I'm glad to know that there are many others in the world that feel the same...the other idea here is.... "pass it on"...xxoo m

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