The kindness of strangers

Best and BEST of the week
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Best and BEST of the week

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To the woman in the milk and cheese aisle last night, I want to say – thank you. Your random act of parental support saved my sanity. It turned my horrendous day around, and all because you took twenty seconds out of your day to support me – a total stranger.

I was having one of those moments every parent has been through, and everyone else has witnessed – the very public meltdown. Not by me – well, my meltdown was internal – but by my two children, in the middle of a busy Sydney supermarket, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Both contained within the trolley (thank god), I’m sure their screaming could be heard all the way to the toilet paper aisle.

Overtired, hungry, and pushed too far by a busy Mum, they’d had enough. And so had I.

But just as I felt my own tears of exhaustion and embarrassment begin to well up, one understanding and empathic women pushed her way through the judgemental shoppers and whispered to me “You’re doing a great job.”

Wow. What powerful words. And what a rare thing to witness nowadays.

Is it just me, or is support from strangers becoming more and more uncommon? I certainly think so.

It amazes me – and concerns me just a little – just how angry and removed we all are from one another. I get more support from strangers on-line than from the person living next to me. I feel more community love and outreaching from the Facebook and forum friends I have collected than from the parents I stand next to at the local Playgroup. Why is that?

Why are we so comfortable sharing our world on the web, but not with our neighbours? Has our obsession with Facebook, I-phones and on-line forums made us better at supporting each other online than face-to-face? At the moment, support from a stranger can literally make or break me.

I have just moved to a strange city, where everything is new and unfamiliar. I’m a fish out of my water, and the way you – a total stranger – interacts with me is everything. I’ve been abused as I’ve driven down the wrong way of a one-way road. I’ve been stuck at a playground with a 4 year old screaming for the toilet and no-one helped me with directions to the nearest public loo. I am that woman you stare at as you rush past in your busy life – the one you may feel sorry for, but don’t do much about.

The thing is, we never really know what’s going on in someone’s life. Perhaps that woman who cut you off at the traffic lights is in a rush to pick up her sick kid from school. Or perhaps that man pushing past you at the train station has been up all night worried about losing his job. Or perhaps, like me, that woman in the carpark has just packed up her life and moved to a new city where she feels totally alone.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we gave everyone the benefit of the doubt? Rather than react with anger or judgement, wouldn’t it be fantastic if everyone was like that amazing woman in the supermarket and assumed they just need a little understanding  Try it. One day, it might just be you rushing the wrong way down a one-way street, after losing your job, and with a screaming child needing a toilet.

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz has been a producer at ABC Radio for nearly 12 years and is now the ABC’s resident Mummy blogger with her weekly blog “The Mummy Monologues” . She also makes regular appearances on ABC Local Radio

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