May 13, 2016 by T. Gregory Argall
Earlier this week I was spellchecked in a parking lot.
I was at my local shopping centre. I’d parked my car and was walking towards the mall entrance. There was a couple walking about ten feet ahead of me, and ahead of them was a nervous looking fellow standing beside his car with a pen in one hand and a greeting card in the other.
He looked like he was about to approach the couple, but then he hesitated and they passed him. he then turned to me and, smiling nervously, he spoke with a broken accent. “Excuse. Could you tell me how spell ‘from’?”
I repeated the word back to him, just to be sure I’d heard him correctly. “From?” It seemed so random and unlikely.
“Yes. From,” he said, indicating the pen and card. “How to spell?”
I spelled the word for him, twice, enunciating each letter to be sure he was following. He repeated it back to me correctly and thanked me. Then he sat in his car wrote on the card.
Despite my initial reaction, it occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t such an odd thing after all. English was obviously not this person’s first language, and while learning to speak it can be relatively simple, learning to write it is another matter entirely.
It’s a sad fact in English-speaking countries that a significant portion of the population will have no reservations at all about yelling, “If you can’t speak the language then go back to wherever you came from,” whenever they encounter someone with a foreign accent. There’s certainly no shortage of people eager to express that sentiment on Facebook. Not something that the rest of us are proud of, but it’s reality.
And I’m sure it’s something that the gentleman in the parking lot has experienced firsthand.
I have no idea what his backstory may be. He looked to be about fifty years old, and judging solely by his verbal command of the language, I doubt he’s been in Canada more than a year or two. Maybe he chose to move here to be closer to family that had already emigrated. Maybe he’s a refugee, forced by circumstance to abandon his unsafe home and try to make a new life in a strange land. Regardless of his reasons for living here and in spite of Canada’s friendly reputation around the world, he is unfortunately not guaranteed a warm response from every person he speaks to.
Some people revel in being assholes and thrive on intolerance.
So consider the courage required to approach a complete stranger, knowing that you might be incurring wrath and indignation simply by being there, and having to ask an embarrassingly basic question. How many times a day might he find himself in that position? How many times a week? Not knowing if the next question he asks of a stranger will be met with a smile or with unreasonable anger.
I’m six feet five inches tall, about 280 pounds, and I have a shaved head. Visually, I admit I can appear intimidating, even when I’m actively trying not to. I have no idea why this fellow decided to let the couple pass and to ask me for help instead. I certainly wouldn’t have. But I’m kind of proud to say that he chose wisely.
It sounds ironically selfish, but he gave me an opportunity to be kind.
It took maybe thirty seconds out of my day and gave me a chance to humblebrag that I helped someone. I smiled, he smiled, and we came away from it feeling just a little bit better about society and life in general. It’s ridiculous how much that improved my day.
The “Random Act of Kindness” movement has been active for years, encouraging people to seek out opportunities to help others or simply be nice. I didn’t even have to look for this chance to be kind; it presented itself to me. And that sort of thing happens far more often than you’d think it does.
It’s not always that easy, but often, helping someone can simply happen, almost effortlessly, if you just let it. Doing something that seems minor and insignificant to you might have much greater meaning to someone else.
So why not do it?
There’s really no excuse not to, so try to be nice to each other.