“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” – Albert Schweitzer

South Africa is a hard society. South Africans can be really hard on each other. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will experience or see rudeness and unkind behaviour. When I am on the road – whether I am in a mini bus taxi, a MyCiTi bus, or just walking, I observe some of the ways people are so unkind to each other. While shopping at the grocery store or grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant, I have seen people treat service workers with absolute rudeness and condescension.

I have witnessed in horror a terribly rude white woman customer interacting with a black woman working at the bakery at Spar recently. She was so unnecessarily rude – the customer never looked at the women serving her, spoke in a condescending manner, spoke loud as if she was stupid, asked to be handed over a baguette and then felt it and smelled it and then handed it back asking “is this all you have?” with her nose frowning. Later that day I scolded myself for not alerting the white woman to her rudeness.

I have watched people at the robots be so rude. Sometimes people take a second or two to move when the lights turn green, but people get so angry and hoot and sometimes fiercely speed fast past the car waiting in the lights. People live busy lives yes, but you can spare a second or two for someone to take off.

I have witnessed taxi drivers be absolutely unkind to people who have taken the wrong taxi or missed their stop and be totally unwilling to returning the person to the right spot. I have observed a taxi driver kick someone out of a taxi after discovering that they didn’t have the full taxi fair.

I have observed a manager of a restaurant “discipline” a waiter in front of customers in a condescending manner, and I remember feeling really bad for the waiter. There is way of dealing with these issues without being blatantly horrible and obnoxious.

These are just a few examples of the unkind ways people approach other people. The lack of respect and the lack of kindness can be really depressing to watch. I think sometimes people confuse demanding the best with being rude and unkind. I think we should demand the best from each other and from the places we get services, but one can do that with kindness.

I wonder if we could try and practice being nice to each other. To think about what we are about to say to someone else, especially if we are not having a good day.

It would be one thing if people were unkind to each other once in a while because they were upset. No, it is a constant occurrence. It is a way people go through life – their everyday interactions at work, on the streets, in the shops, and quite possibly at home.

I think if you witness someone being unkind to another person, you should step in and say something. If you are really scared of the person being rude and unkind, console the person who has been subjected to the unkindness. It makes the world of difference when someone who is not involved in the situation alert the person who is being rude and impossible that they are being unkind.

I also think we actually need to practise, school each other on being kind. There needs to be an effort from all of us to be more kind, more gentle, and try to understand that we are all dealing with people with their own life battles. Service workers are people with families who have grocery lists just like the customers.

The distancing of ourselves from the people we meet in everyday interactions is what enables us to be so unkind to other people. It is hard to be unkind to people that you know, and people you understand, people you see as human. Imagine the type of society we could live in if we just thought about what the other person could be facing. Not in a “carry the world on your shoulders” type of way, but in a manner that enables us to empathise with fellow humans.

There are many things we can do to cultivate and show kindness and we can start with people we interact with everyday. The most wonderful thing about being kind is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything. You can be kind to other people without spending any money. Some of the ways we can be kind to others are as simple as greeting someone at the till who is about to ring your groceries. In the Xhosa culture there are few things as offensive as not being greeted and being asked how you are. This is a way of recognising other people as human, and way of saying, “hey, I see you.”

As Schweitzer stated “kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” So imagine the ways that being more kind to each other would change our communities and how we interact with each other. Imagine living in a world where being kind to other people is the standard? I’d like to think that world is possible and we can achieve it with one kind act at a time.

Written by Lwando Scott