Letters From the Editor: Kindness of strangers shouldn't be so surprising

I moonlight as a journalism instructor at Orange Coast College.

After class on Wednesday, I began the walk from my classroom to the administration building on the other end of campus.

There must have been something about my hurried gait, one made crooked by the book-and-laptop-laden messenger bag around my shoulder.

A security guard in an electric golf cart pulled up next to me.

"You look like you could use a ride," he said.

"I could."

"Then hop in."

I did. The little engine whizzed like an electric toothbrush, and we were on our way.

He was a kind older gentleman. I told him it was my first semester at OCC, that I was surprised by how nice everyone was, especially with directions.

Shocked, really. Where else in Orange County would someone — someone with whom you feel safe, anyway — give you a ride just because you look like you could use one?

He dropped me off. I got his name, gave him mine, said thank you and hopped out.

This little anecdote may not sound worthy of spilling 450 words in today's paper. But I find the story illustrative of a bigger realization: We are now surprised when people are nice to us. Shouldn't the inverse be true?

Kindness among strangers is no longer the norm; indifference is. When strangers are rude we barely flinch. We've come to expect as much.

Our first instinct used to be to help. Now it's to be left alone. We used to look each other in the eye. Now we look into our tiny little screens.

Helping others, once a foundational value of our society, makes headlines today precisely because good Samaritans are in shorter supply than gold iPhones.

There are still little kindnesses out there, but they're rare, and when you experience them you feel like you have to do what I am doing now: Tell someone.

When I think back on the last week, I realize there were indeed kindhearted moments worth remembering. A waitress at Polly's comped two pieces of pie for my family on Friday night. A reader sent me a handwritten note telling me how much she appreciated the paper (Thanks, Mom).

A new reporter sent me an email about how much she liked her job. An editor gave me a copy of a magazine I like. A woman I had coffee with at Starbucks offered her place in line to a senior citizen who had trouble getting through the door.

These antidotes to cynicism should be so normal they go unnoticed. We should be surprised when strangers aren't nice, not when they are.

JOHN CANALIS is the editor for the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and john.canalis@latimes.com.

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