As a blizzard rages outside, I’m holed up in my bedroom with Netflix and my computer, quietly catching up on my grading. My daughters, still in pajamas at 4:46 pm, are watching their third movie of the day after having sledded and tubed down our hill with their older brother this morning
I’m watching the Kindness Diaries on this snowy day in Winona and I’m pleasantly surprised.
If you haven’t seen it, the Kindness Diaries is the culmination of Englishman Leon Logothetis‘ journey around the world on his yellow motorbike aptly named Kindness 1. Here’s the catch, he purposely brought no money and relies solely on the kindness of strangers for petrol, food and lodging. For those who inspire him, he gives back in large ways. I’m not going to ruin it, you’ll just have to watch.
Logothetis, a former London broker, ditched his day job in favor of travel and adventure. (We should all be so lucky.) It seems he has re-branded himself as a travel writer who collects stories of people he encounters. The episodes are inspirational when he meets generous people and heartbreaking when he is rejected over and over again.
Case in point: he meets a man in Philly and asks him if he can put him up for the night. The man hesitates and says yes–except he is homeless. In the next breath, he offers Logothetis a space next to him in his “camp”. He manages to find clean, donated socks and underwear, a meal and clean bedding from others in the area. As they bedded down for the night in a doorway [cue, tears] I could not help but choke back the lump in my throat.
If a British man with a backpack and a camera crew came up to me in a park and asked if I’d put him up for the evening I’d say no and quickly move on. Why? Because as a woman I’d be nervous to bring a strange man into my home with my children (or without, for that matter). This seems a common response from all but two women on the show so far. The Greek woman was welcoming and hospitable as was the Turkish woman in Istanbul.
It made me stop and think: Why would they help and I would not? Why are they not afraid to help a stranger?
And, more importantly, WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?
My husband and I are naturally cautious when considering house guests because of our two teen/tween daughters. I’ve been conditioned to be afraid and expect the worst of people. I do not even allow my son’s friends to stay over when the girls are home. This seems to be smart and responsible parenting. Keeping our kids safe is priority #1. And yet…
As I watch the show I see a theme emerge: the people who had the least gave the most.
I have the most and would give the least. Is it because I feel afraid to lose even a little of what I have? Safety? Comfort? Money? Food?
The Indian pedi cab driver who brought Logothetis into his home was asked why he helped. He said, “humans help humans. Guests are like a god.”
As I prepare a month-long journey of my own, Logothetis’ message hits hard. A month in Paris, London, Scotland and Germany is a large undertaking, especially for someone with a blank passport and a whole summer off. I’ve been so preoccupied with footwear and luggage that I’ve not given a single thought to the people who I may meet and their own stories. My trip has a work purpose, but I have some days to myself (and my mom) for exploration.
As I’ve become more comfortable traveling in my own home country the past few years, I find my favorite part of travel is to engage a local, like Logothetis is on his journey. I tend toward the insular and comfortable, but I’m seeing from Logothetis’ example that in order to have authentic experiences I need to actually be authentic, open to experiences and– gulp — trusting.
I may be that American in a strange country who someone would not bring home because they are keeping their kids safe.
I may be that American in a strange country who is lost on a subway and has to rely on a local for help.
I may be that American in a strange country who makes a cultural faux pas in public and offends a local.
If I’m going to get to know the world, I need to get past my comfortable American ways.
I’m watching Logothetis experience the kindness of strangers who have the least amount to give. In contrast, locals in the French Riviera and Lake Como, Italy gave nothing. That would be me, the nothing giver. Am I robbing my children of the opportunity to help people? Am I setting a bad example by being insular in the name of safety? Am I setting up my kids to distrust strangers? The chant stranger danger, plays over and over in my head. Is that a fallacy? When do strangers not pose a danger? At what point do you need to have faith and act on it?
I’m leaving Logothetis in Bhutan discussing their concept of gross national happiness. The Minister of Environment explains that it is part of the culture to welcome and help anyone their home. It looks to be true. He has zero resistance in Bhutan for hospitality and food. “Are all Bhutanese people this friendly?” he asks a Bhutanese farmer. “Yes, they are all like me. Jolly, friendly, good,” he says.
As I edit this post, Logothetis is being housed and fed in an Indian orphanage. The least give the most over and over again.
Help me be a giver. Inspire me with your travel stories as I mentally prepare for my summer journey.