Have you ever seen A Streetcar Named Desire? You may have heard the final and famous line from Blanche DuBois, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I never really cared for her character or felt that she was particularly kind. For me, there is a certain irony with that line being associated with her.
Fast forward 70 years and I have found a person who epitomizes the line. Leon Logothetis, the creator and star of the very compelling documentary TV series on Netflix, The Kindness Diaries.
Mr. Logothetis had a very financially successful career as a broker in London. He felt uninspired and chronically depressed; apparently money does not buy happiness. He left the world of investments and entered the world of philanthropy and adventure. The premise of his adventure is to travel completely around the world on his yellow motorbike he named “Kindness One” relying solely on the kindness of strangers. Bonnie, from our office, introduced me to this series and told me that I would probably really enjoy it. Boy, was she right. I am willing to bet that you will like it as well.
The series begins in LA, and Leon is filled with nervous anticipation to begin his adventure, and I, as the viewer, am waiting for the wheels to fall off (either literally, as the bike is from the 40s, or figuratively). I believe that he will make a good go of it, but at some point he will hit a wall. Maybe he will make it across the U.S., maybe even the Atlantic and Europe, but as soon as he hits the Middle East and Asia there will be too many obstacles for him to continue with this inane strategy.
Think about it. He will need a place to sleep at night (every night). He will need food, every day. And his bike will not move without petrol. That is a crazy premise, isn’t it? I won’t give away the story because I would encourage you to watch it. Each episode is mercifully short at about 20 minutes, so it won’t take a large commitment on your part. Of course, you could binge watch the whole series, but to me that is like sitting down to eat an entire chocolate cake. Each bite is sweet, and delicious, but eaten at one sitting the sweetness and deliciousness is lost and replaced with dissatisfaction.
Because philanthropy is important to him, and he has the means, occasionally Leon and the crew will meet people who go well beyond kindness with their generosity. After they give from their lack, Leon will return the favor as he moves on to his next destination and literally change their lives with significant gifts. These are always a surprise and never a condition of the generosity offered. He travels in a very humble manner, and to look at him you would never know that he has two nickels to rub together, so people are genuinely kind to offer him a meal, or a place to stay. They are overwhelmed when he returns the favor and exceeds their wildest dreams. For this reason, it is advisable to have tissues close at hand.
At a time like ours which seems to be filled with cynicism, self-interest, and vitriol towards others, it is important to be reminded of the fact that people are kind. In many ways we get back from the universe what we put out there. If we sew seeds of kindness and warmth, then we get that back. If we choose the opposite… well, you wouldn’t be reading this, because our clients are kind and warm. It is a series like this that fosters the belief that there is hope. It also challenges me in my own life to both be kind and to trust in the goodness of others.
I don’t have the resources (or the time) to take on an audacious goal like traveling around the world relying entirely on the kindness of strangers, but I look for small ways to make a positive impact in our world. My family has made over 166 loans to people we will never meet in 59 different countries through Kiva.org. For spring break, we were privileged to travel to Costa Rica, where soccer is a passion. We packed a dozen new soccer balls in our luggage to give to the people we encountered while visiting. This goodwill gesture will not change the world, but for a moment it may just change a young person’s day.
If you are interested to learn more about micro lending through Kiva or hear about the Ursu family’s soccer ball ambassador program, make sure to ask me the next time we get together. In the meantime, I will quote Leon Logothetis, “Just, be kind.”