An Act of Kindness by a Swede

In my experience, it’s rare when an “Act of Kindness” in the form of helping a stranger occurs in Sweden. In my six years here, nothing like the following has ever happened.

Planning to purchase a TV while on vacation, I did all the proper planning - obtained the address and phone number of the store and had my GPS in my car. What I didn’t know was that the store (and area) was brand new so my GPS couldn’t find the street or any other street nearby.

In addition, I was carrying my old phone which didn’t have Internet access so I couldn’t get directions. I wasted at least 30 minutes trying to find the store on my own.

Being a bit frustrated, I stopped at a gas station and focused on spotting a helpful face. I saw a man going to his car and asked him if he knew where the store was. Luckily, he did and I expected him to tell me so I could write down the directions.

Without blinking an eye, he said, “follow me, I will take you there”. I was shocked as no person in Sweden has ever been so pleasant when I needed help and I've asked many questions to strangers, especially in my early years.

He also mentioned that it would take “ten minutes to get there” which would have been difficult for him to explain and for me to absorb.

Never one to question or not take sincere help when offered, I thanked the man and jumped into my car for the short trip. Once at the store, it was clear the man wasn’t headed in that direction as there were only a handful of large and newly built stores. He turned his car around and I gave him a big wave of thanks. He beeped his horn and his kind act was complete. I was grateful for his guidance as I drove quite a distance to visit this store.

Two lessons from the day stuck with me and may help you as well:

-- Always print or write down directions - I usually print directions even though I have GPS just in case the GPS malfunctions. I have never needed the printed directions previously but there is a first time for everything. This was the time I needed them.

-- Help a stranger when you can - How many times have we been asked directions and simply pointed pointed people in the proper or improper direction? I have. Would it really mess up our day if we took an extra 10 minutes to help someone in need?

I’ve walked strangers to their destination on a few occasions although I can remember other times when I didn’t and could have as I had plenty of time to do so. When I have time, I plan to always help from this day forward.

An “Act of Kindness” is a beautiful thing as it is an invaluable tool in bringing mankind closer together, inspiring one another and connecting in a positive manner. Our complex and diverse world needs all the kindness we can provide.

This man’s eager help was a profound moment for me - one that touched me immensely and I will never forget.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, one of the most precious times in our lives are the small moments we experience.  Make sure to enjoy and learn from them when they occur.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Photo taken by our friend Mia who is a wonderful photogratpher


Derek said...

Hi George,

You are right, this is not so common in Sweden and I think it is related to shyness/minding your own business/personal space. Have you noticed how it's unusual for Swedes to offer help with a pram/pushchair in or out of a bus?

Twice in the US I had people drive a very long way to lead me to where I was going. Both times were at night in dangerous parts of town (DC and New Orleans) and when I asked directions I was told "follow me or you'll never get outa here."

Unknown said...

I recall a night when fellow traveler and I were stuck on a freezing cold island in the middle of the North Atlantic. I think it was about to snow (or it seemed like it at the time). We were both inappropriately clothed. Let me clarify - what I mean is we weren't in our underwear, but not dressed warm enough for the extremely harsh weather conditions that we were about to face.

The icy wind seared our dark skin. It felt as though a thousand champagne crystals shattered in our lungs with each laborious breath. Death looks us in the eye, took us by the hand, and was about to lead us down. Our eyes downcast, we accepted our solemn fate.

Then, suddenly a random act by a kindness by a bald man emerged from the parted darkness and said "I'll drive you home." This act of kindness, to which we clung with great vigor, saved both the lives of me and Mr. White.

It wasn't until many years later that the identity of the mysterious man (George) who snatched us from the clutches of death on that desolate island way out in the middle of the North Atlantic (Martha's Vineyard) was responsible for me being alive today and to write thanx.


Daryl said...

George, just last week I was out with the kids on Djurgården when an elderly lady collapsed right in front of us (lots of blood and confusion). I helped her to a bench and held a compress on her head while I shouted for a passer-by to call an ambulance. When we finally got her properly taken care of and we were on our way again, my daughter asked me, "mommy, why did you help that old lady and get blood all over you"? My answer was simply, "because I would expect someone to do the same for you or me. It's just what you do." Needless to say, it was her number one topic of conversation for days afterwards. To lend a helping hand is human nature (I don't believe it has cultural boundaries), and I guess you're never to young to see it in action. I've been helped so many times in my life by total strangers that I would never hesitate to pass on the goodwill.

Anonymous said...

Hi George!
It is definitely not common to receive help from a Swede. At my age I don’t think it would be advisable to receive help from a Swede either.

Whenever such ‘help’ is mentioned in my daily newspaper, it is a report of a helpless old lady being robbed in the most sinister way, by ‘helpful’ people.

Marcus Svensson said...

Wonderful post G!

Helping anyone out is so easy to do, it gives you that extra energy that fulfills your day!

One of my favorite quotes:

"There's two kinds of people in this world when you boil it all down. You've got your talkers and you've got your doers. Most people are just talkers. All they got is talk. But when all is said and done. It's the doers who change this world. And when they do that, they change us. And that's why we never forget them. So, which one are you? Do you just talk about it or do you stand up and do something about it?"

Anonymous said...

Oh, I dunno really.
I mean, I'm constanstly helping people out.
Walking them to their hotels, giving them inside tips on where to go if you're a foodie-tourist, traps to avoid etc. But then again I live in the Old Town of Stockholm and hear 5 different languages on my sidewalk before I hear a word of Swedish.
If you find lost tourists bothersome you just don't live in this part of town, or you're a dope.
I'm in my 40's and was raised to leave my seat for any senior citizen, hold the door for the next person, and help with prams etc. I agree that the younger generation is less curtious, which is a shame.
I hate the way folks will shove you in a bar and not even acknowledge it with a simple polite "excuse me". But the thing with "acts of kindness" is it starts with the simple mentality of taking other people into account, acknowledging that they are there; and common courtousy is the basic foundation you learn as a child. Aside from the fact that it just makes urban life more tolerable. It depends on what environment you were raised in, nomatter what country as well I guess.
I was extremely close to my grandmother, and she was a different generation, and an active dogooder, visited the elderly who were all alone, always had something pleasant to say to the cashier etc, always remebered the names of the sevicepeople in her environment etc, so I guess she influenced me to some degree. I'm also half-American, have traveled everywhere, so I'm open to strangers.
I'd like to modify the "two kinds of people"-statement.: In my view there are the Takers, and there are the Givers. Those are the 2 categories. At the and of the day it's about what brings you joy. You know what category you're in, and most people , regardless of category, need to check in on the balance between the two aspects now and then. If your a giver, it's easy to end up working hard for bupkes, letting dudes with selfcentered prestiege just have it their way, and people relying on you to be there for others, never expecting you, in fact, might need a helping hand yourself, now and then. And that's no good either.
But I'll never hesitate to help a stranger in need if there's not an immediate threat to myself in doing so (and even then it's happened on pure adrenalin).
The modern neoliberal-world is all narcissist-individualist-oriented in every way. It's all me , myself and I, and being independant.
That's the goal and held in high regard everywhere, especially in urban environments.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the dubblepost, couldn't delete it :/
I'l tell you a story though:
Caught in a heavy rainfall some ten years ago on an abandoned street uptown, and taking refuge under the awning of a shopwindow , I found myself quite astonishingly, in the sole company of a prostitute, who'd been let off by a john at he wrong end of town and was completely lost.
We spoke, she was exactly my age, had a similar build, was tired and had sore shoulders.
Having a masseurdiploma I gave her a gentle back and shouldermassage. I don't think anyone had touched her lovingly in a very, very long time.
After hanging around for a good halfhour and the weather not letting up, I called (and paid for naturally) a cab to get her where she needed to go.
She said she would call it a day, was very gratefull for my humanity, but that doesn't matter really.
It was just the thing to do then and there, no big whoop.
The point of the story is this: It was I, as much as ever her, who experianced something important from this "chance" meeting.
We can accept what is offered us as an opportunity to grow, or simply ignore it. It's really no big deal, just I've learnt that acting on intuition with other people is always the right course of action.
But if you are governed by fear, the inabillity to see others, or rationality alone, then your basically screwed. And if your the type to hold people accountable for lending them a hand, or expecting "results" because of it, you're definately on the dark side...
You'll probably be quite successfull in several aspects of life, but you'll never evolve spiritually or emotionally. Wisdom will never define you.
For me this is a universal truth, regardless of age gender, race, class, culture, religion etc. and pretty simple stuff.
My two cents :-)