When Kindness is Rebellion

In a world that expects the worst, offering our best is radically subversive.

My first year of hitchhiking — Germany, 2013

“I haven’t told anyone this yet — not even my business partner,” said Jack.

Two pairs of bluebell eyes stared at me gravely — Jack’s, and his infant son’s. Our Jeep sat in Cape Town traffic at the edge of the City Bowl.

Well, their Jeep, to be precise, since I was just the friendly neighborhood hitchhiker.

Jack’s secret? I’m not going to tell, of course.

Traffic began to flow, and the lush greenery of Constantia Nek blurred outside our windows, then transitioned to cityscape as we entered Cape Town proper.

Jack was hardly the first stranger to tell me his life story — nor would he be the last.

When a hitchhiker enters a car, we enter into a tacit agreement with our driver. We are storytellers, listeners, and, most of all, amiable company. We may not offer gas money, but the goods we trade in — words — are far more valuable.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Jack mused as we neared my destination (Jack would continue on to the airport to pick up his wife). “It’s like you’re my unofficial shrink.”

We’re that, too.

In early 2016, newly arrived in Cape Town, I often walked or hitchhiked to get from point A to B. I always made a point of meeting the gaze of each person I passed (their responses alternately inquisitive, friendly, and mildly hostile), smiling, and saying, “hello.”

Whenever I hitchhike, introduce myself and make conversation. Those with whom I temporarily share a journey meet my gaze, smile, and respond in kind.

In those first months in Cape Town, I met a fellow Bostonian, a Singaporean family, a young surfer and an aging contractor — just to mention a few. Each one unique. Each one kind enough to stop for me. Hitchhikers are rare these days, though locals everywhere tell me they were once common.

What does all this have to do with subversion?

In a world that expects the worst, I believe offering the best of ourselves is a fundamental act of rebellion.

In a society that sees mal-intent, hate, danger and selfishness everywhere — with or without due cause — what is more radically subversive than goodwill, love, and selfless support of our fellow human beings?

I enjoy all manner of privilege and bias in my experience of kindness — as some will be quick to point out. A young white woman? Yes, I enjoy more than my share of privilege.

Although I will freely acknowledge this fact, I do not believe it alters my argument. For while none of us controls what the world gives to us — hate, or love; malcontent, or goodwill — each of us decides what we offer in return.

Rebellion, sometimes, is a broad smile.

Subversion, maybe, is the wide open arms of anyone who chooses love and trust in this crazy world.

And in that case, what is more radically subversive than acts of kindness? What is more rebellious than accepting that kindness — with an optimistic smile?

You may choose your own acts of subversion, make your own revolutions, but this — kindness, trust and love — is the revolution I want to be a part of.


Originally published at www.tobyisrael.me on March 1, 2016.