A real Good Samaritan
September 7, 2011 3:14 AM   Subscribe

One act of kindness that befell British writer Bernard Hare in 1982 changed him profoundly. Then a student living just north of London, he tells the story to inspire troubled young people to help deal with their disrupted lives.
posted by joannemullen (38 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's incredibly moving. Thank you for sharing.
posted by glaucon at 3:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ditto. Follow up stories inspired by the original piece here.
posted by numberstation at 3:40 AM on September 7, 2011


I'm dyspraxic, so the amount of things I have left on public transport is without number - wallets, bags of shopping, library books, tube passes (my pass costs £1200 a year), CDs I had travelled for an hour to buy (and which ended up in a lost property office I could never get to during opening hours), umbrellas.

One evening I took a packed tube home, and as I was straphanging and couldn't hold open a newspaper whilst holding myself upright, I was looking round the carriage. I spotted what looked like a passport behind someone's head, on the wee windowsill. Hmm. I picked it up, wary that people might think I was stealing, and found not only the passport but a driving license, loan agreement and a form for the dole office - everything one might need to assume the identity of a 19yr old from Essex.

Luckily, there was a number in the back, which went through to his mum, and I managed to get it sent back via a branch of the bank in which she worked. She offered me payment, and I told her 'Nope, honestly, I've left things in trains often enough.' I didn't even feel right keeping the unopened Bounty bar that was laying on top of the documents. I never found out her name and she never found out mine.

I like to think that next time I lose something on a train, someone will also feel like the right thing to do is to get it back to me.
posted by mippy at 3:50 AM on September 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


Thanks for sharing this touching tale... happy stuff like this gets posted and hope it is read by many.
posted by TolkienLibrary at 4:10 AM on September 7, 2011


beautiful...


and that is how the world gets better, one act of kindness at a time.
posted by caddis at 4:42 AM on September 7, 2011


A rail Good Samaritan, I think you'll find.

Though this kind of civic activity isn't supported so much in a privatised rail industry with contractual timing targets to reach to justify vast public subsidy.
posted by davemee at 4:42 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The story was a little extra-dramatic, but I try to live this way. A lot of people have given me help over the years, and I try to pay it back by helping others. Sometimes it's kind of big, but, most often, it's small things -- the student during exam week who was a buck short of being able to get a coffee for both her and her study partner, the guy having trouble with his bus fare, that kind of stuff. I dunno if that makes me a better person, but it seems to make the world run a little better.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:42 AM on September 7, 2011


This was a wonderful thing to read at the start of my day - it really resonated with me. Thank you for posting.
posted by pinky at 5:15 AM on September 7, 2011


That story is only charming if all the people on the Leeds train only had trivial needs to get where they were going on time. The train conductor did him a big favour at not cost to himself or his company but at a very difficult to determine cost to all their other customers on the Leeds train.
posted by srboisvert at 5:19 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course if they needed to be somewhere on time they probably wouldn't take a train in England.
posted by srboisvert at 5:20 AM on September 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


That story is only charming if all the people on the Leeds train only had trivial needs to get where they were going on time.

If someone else on that train missed their mother's death in Leeds by 20 minutes, then you'd have a point.
posted by bicyclefish at 5:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


We would all freeze in our tracks and do nothing -- and then freak out that we weren't doing anything -- if we thought about all the possible negative ramifications of everything we intended to do. But what if I give money to this charity and they save the life of a future murderer? But what if I buy these socks and it turns out the cashier was just going to go on a break across the busy street where she would have been run down by a truck driven by a possibly future pope who was waiting for a sign from God to help him decide whether to join and reform the church or start a band that would have been like the Beatles and Little Stevie Wonder with James Brown out front?
posted by pracowity at 5:40 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


If someone else on that train missed their mother's death in Leeds by 20 minutes, then you'd have a point.

No, if someone else missed their mother's death in Leeds by 20 minutes as a result of this, you'd have an O. Henry story....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:44 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


But what if I give money to this charity and they save the life of a future murderer?

That's not a like-for-like comparison, though, because it's about unpredictable future consequence - that counterexample is deep and narrow, whereas srboisvert's proposition is broad and flat. In his model, Bernard Hare is one of, let's say, 100 people seeking to be on a train to Leeds. It's possible that the needs of those 99 other passengers (the many) to get to their destination on time outweigh the needs of one passenger (the few), even though that one passenger's need is very compelling. On balance, probability suggests that none of the other passengers will have as compelling a need for the train to be on time than one passenger has for it to be delayed.

The counterargument to this is pragmatic utility: the last direct train had already left, and therefore this was presumably a very late train, nobody on the Peterbrough-Leeds train would be likely to be continuing their journeys by train that evening, and therefore a twenty minute delay would not be significant. Indeed, in general people plan for some possible delay on mass transit. Therefore, the compelling need of the one justifies the risk of a simultaneous major detriment among the many minor inconveniences to the many. It isn't "but what if that child grew up to be Lex Luthor?".
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But what if I give money to this charity and they save the life of a future murderer? But what if I buy these socks and it turns out the cashier was just going to go on a break across the busy street where she would have been run down by a truck driven by a possibly future pope who was waiting for a sign from God to help him decide whether to join and reform the church or start a band that would have been like the Beatles and Little Stevie Wonder with James Brown out front?

What if I take up professional wrestling, and I win my first bout because of my amazing strength and agility, but then the promoter rips me off and so I don't stop the guy who robs him, and then that same guy kills my beloved uncle like five minutes later?
posted by Naberius at 6:26 AM on September 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Cool story bro.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:39 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if I take up professional wrestling, and I win my first bout because of my amazing strength and agility, but then the promoter rips me off and so I don't stop the guy who robs him, and then that same guy kills my beloved uncle like five minutes later?

Spider Straw-man, Spider straw-man,
friendly neighborhood Spider straw-man
Weath and fame it's ignored
Arguments are its reward.
To it, life is a great big bang-up,
logic is just a hang up,
you've found a Spider straw-maaaaan
posted by dubold at 6:40 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


what if I give money to this charity and they save the life of a future murderer?

What if you don't give to charity, and the loss of resources drives someone to a life of crime?

You can use opposing anxieties to cancel each other out!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:44 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's possible that the needs of those 99 other passengers (the many) to get to their destination on time outweigh the needs of one passenger (the few), even though that one passenger's need is very compelling. On balance, probability suggests that none of the other passengers will have as compelling a need for the train to be on time than one passenger has for it to be delayed.

20 minutes late on BR? That doesn't even rise above the general noise of how late they would typically get you home.

What if I take up professional wrestling, and I win my first bout because of my amazing strength and agility, but then the promoter rips me off and so I don't stop the guy who robs him, and then that same guy kills my beloved uncle like five minutes later?

But how many will die due to the collapse of civilisation stemming from vigilantism?
posted by biffa at 6:47 AM on September 7, 2011


That story is only charming if all the people on the Leeds train only had trivial needs to get where they were going on time. The train conductor did him a big favour at not cost to himself or his company but at a very difficult to determine cost to all their other customers on the Leeds train.

This only shows that utilitarian theories are incomplete. All a human being has to consider is, how many people on that train would not have waited if they were aware of the kid's sob story?

To even think of his story in terms of "charming" is missing the part that sacrifice plays in every act of giving.
posted by polymodus at 7:06 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Coincidentally, I started doing big obvious favors for my 11yo boy this week followed by a directive to "pay it forward." After a couple times he asked me to just stop doing him favors. Works for me!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:17 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like the picture of his Mom they chose to include in the story.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:20 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


You can use opposing anxieties to cancel each other out!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:44 AM on September 7

Eponyisterical!
posted by chavenet at 7:20 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was on a bus returning home from Seattle one night when the driver pulled over by the side of the highway, about two miles from the border. As we sat there, in the dark, the passengers began grumbling and, as the minutes went on, increasingly irritated and restless. The driver told us only that we were waiting for a passenger who had missed the bus in Bellingham, and the grumbling continued-- why did we have to be put out because somebody couldn't be bothered to arrive in time, and so on. It was late, we all wanted to get home, there was still another hour of driving and the border to get through. Finally a taxi appeared and pulled up, and a woman got out with a small suitcase and boarded the bus. She started apologizing to the people in the front in that hyped up emotional way people have when under stress. It turned out that she, too, had missed the connection by a few minutes and was heading home to Canada to be with her father, who was dying, and likely wouldn't last through the next day. She'd flown into Bellingham and missed the bus north by a few minutes. The passengers, as one, immediately abandoned any resentment at being made late--"No, it's fine, we don't care, this is more important"-- and the people she sat with spent the rest of the trip comforting her. So here's that story from the other side.
posted by jokeefe at 7:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [29 favorites]


What strikes me most isn't the act of kindness, but how the act of kindness changed the beneficiary "from a selfish, potentially violent hedonist into a decent human being". This was clearly an inflection point in his his life that has rippled through the world ever since, making it in small part a better place. It's stories like this that keep you going.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:39 AM on September 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


I once lost all my credit cards & most of my identity cards in a parking lot in a Chicago suburb. I panicked & had already cancelled one card when I got a call from my mom in Missouri telling me that someone had found my cards. The crazy part is that my mom's phone number was nowhere among those cards. He'd gone through the cards & only one had a phone number. It was my local video store in Missouri. When he called, he spoke with a woman who knew my mom. The woman at the video store passed on all his contact information to my mom, and then she gave it to me. I got the cards back the next day!

I have always tried to do nice things for others, but I definitely make more of an effort since that day.
posted by bibliophibianj at 8:03 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Today you, tomorrow me
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:11 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


great post. really think this man is awesome.
(iforgot about the indo-china war of 1962)
posted by clavdivs at 8:55 AM on September 7, 2011


In her PBS special, Carol Burnett told about a wealthy benefactor who loaned her money to get started in NY.

She goes into more detail here.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:03 AM on September 7, 2011


Today you, tomorrow me

After reading that story on Reddit, I started carrying a water bottle, 12V air compressor, jumper cables, antifreeze, and a fire extinguisher in my truck. The antifreeze has been emptied twice into other people's radiators, and the jumper cables and compressor used at least half a dozen times. I hope I never have to use the fire extinguisher.
posted by fake at 9:18 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


A few days ago at a very busy grocery store, I was third in a check out line. A very frazzled mom with a crying toddler was juggling her wallet, the child and her purse. Her stuff was bagged and she started to leave. Then the cashier realized that 3 of this woman's items hadn't gotten scanned, bagged or paid for. The child cried louder and the poor mom looked so spent, ready to start crying herself.

The woman next in line said to the cashier, "ring those up with my order and bag them for her". The mom gratefully went on her way. It probably cost the nice lady who paid about $6. I was so impressed. I've been the mom with the screaming kid before and its hard. I think there are opportunities all the time to do something decent for one another. Even if its as minor as letting someone merge onto a busy street in front of you. I try to be kind but I could probably try harder.
posted by Kangaroo at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2011


Terrific story - nice to see more like this in this era of toxic politics and news that's bad to worse.
posted by leslies at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2011


When I was about 8 (back in the dark ages of the 1950s) I read a story that has stayed with me ever since. It was about a family of migrant workers in the US who follow crops around and live in their truck. It's told from the perspective of their daughter who has to change schools every few months; she also has trouble reading because her eyes are bad.

A teacher at one school takes an interest in her. One Saturday the teacher shows up at the family's campsite and asks if she can take the kid for a few hours. She takes the girl to see an eye doctor who fits her with glasses. When the teacher brings her back to her family the parents promise to repay the teacher. The teacher, however, tells them she does not expect them to, she just hopes the girl will help others when she can.
posted by mareli at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2011


Great story. Thanks, joannemullen.
posted by homunculus at 2:43 PM on September 7, 2011


It's funny how this kind of thing works. I wouldn't underestimate how it may have affected the ticket guy, as well. I hesitate to tell this story, as I don't want any credit for it. But it seems to illustrate the neat symmetry in connecting with people in this way that isn't always obvious.

Late one evening, I stopped at a pharmacy before it closed to pick up a prescription for a friend of mine. In the lobby, a man in a wheelchair was trying to make contact with home, as he was supposed to get picked up, but whoever was supposed to pick him up had apparently forgotten. He was an older gentleman, and was pretty cold. He had been at it for awhile and was starting to get distressed. It just so happened that I had a wheelchair equipped van that I had just driven up in, belonging to the same friend I was getting the prescription for. I offered the man a ride home, and he thanked me, but said that he needed an equipped vehicle, as he couldn't get out of his chair. I said no problem, I've got you covered. The look of initial disbelief and then relief on his face still gives me the shivers when I think about it, as it was such a crazy coincidence. I don't know that he had any hope of getting home otherwise, at least not without a whole lot of inconvenience and pain.

Here's the rub: I was having a really hard day before this, and somehow, connecting with my fellow man over something like this made me feel pretty excellent. It wasn't the fact that I did a good thing, but that somehow, the universe (or something grander) sometimes allows for us to participate to lessen our collective human suffering as history unravels. Being able to participate, by itself, seemed to me to be more at the heart of a life purpose than whatever stupid thing was bothering me that day. It put it in such keen perspective for me that I've carried with me since. In the end, I got way way more out of that interchange that changed me for the better than the man I gave a ride home to.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I wish I could favorite this:

...the universe (or something grander) sometimes allows for us to participate to lessen our collective human suffering as history unravels.

a thousand times.
posted by cooker girl at 5:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm actually sitting in a train now, with some sort of sticks in my eyes... And weirdly, as I was logging in to comment this article, a guy comes into the (silent) compartment, but then goes
right out again to talk with a teen who is listening to music too loud. The new passenger says: listen, I'm not here to scold you. I'm worried. You can get tinnitus
Not as big a story, but also a caring adult. We need more of those on public transportation.
posted by mumimor at 2:05 PM on September 8, 2011


Sometimes the needs of the one... outweigh the needs of the many.
posted by bq at 10:42 PM on September 14, 2011


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