One of the things I have had to get used to in Dargaville, New Zealand, is the number of people who walk to their destinations. It is a small town and one can get to places quite easily and quickly without driving. As a result, people are always walking the streets.
Since people walk so much around here, they must cross the street from time to time. As I mentioned in my blog (How Rude!) two weeks ago, unless you are at a designated pedestrian crossing, vehicles have the right of way. Sometimes crossing the street is risky business!
As I also mentioned in the previous blog, where I live in the United States, stopping for someone to cross the street, even when there is no pedestrian crossing, is fairly normal and considered the kind thing to do.
I found myself trying to be kind to people here — when I am driving and see someone step into the street to cross, I stop and motion to them to cross. The response is usually a look of frustration and confusion. At first this response threw me. I could not understand why people would be confused or frustrated with me when I was trying to be kind toward them!
After paying closer attention to how people cross the street in this little town, I now realize why what I regard as kindness instead leads to confusion and frustration. People are used to stepping into the street to cross immediately after the vehicle has passed, and they expect vehicles that have the right of way except in designated pedestrian crossing areas to continue on.
Whenever I stop to allow someone to cross, it slows their momentum. They have no idea why I am stopping since they are used to waiting for the vehicle to pass and then crossing the street. As a result, my attempts at being kind instead have led to confusion and frustration.
We want others to be kind to us; and, hopefully, we want to be kind to others. But when in a different culture or dealing with someone of a different culture even in your own context, do not assume they will regard your acts of kindness as kind. Sometimes what you think is kindness leads to confusion and frustration!
It is best to either observe what being kind looks like or ask how you can help. To assume that our own perception of kindness is the same for others could lead to lots of confusion, frustration and even strained relationships.
I am learning that I must not stop when I see someone trying to cross the street, though I admit that I still do it from time to time. I hope when I get back to my hometown in the U.S. I don’t run someone over who is expecting me to stop!
Don’t let your kindness lead to frustration and confusion. When you are unsure, it is better to ask, “How can I help?” or “What would be most helpful to you at this time?” Believe it or not, kindness is often particular to place, context and culture.
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