Random Acts of Kindness

One cardinal blogging rule I try to live by is to say something original, something beyond “yeah, and I agree!”

But every once in a while, you can’t improve on the original.

danah boyd (that’s not a typo) is a Berkeley PhD currently working for Microsoft Research, while at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She made her career (so far) by studying online social networks for teens—Napster, Friendster, Second Life, and everywhere in between.

She was speaking at the recent SXSW conference in Austin. Here, slavishly quoted, is what happened to her on the way back to Boston:

Due to poor planning, G and I were on different flights back. I was already booked on the early flight and had already been assigned my upgrade. So when we reached DFW, we raced across the airport to get him on standby. Success, but of course, he got stuck in a middle seat in coach. Standing around waiting to board, I’m feeling all mega-guilty about being in first while he’s in coach so I’m more affectionate than normal.

The plane boards and I proceed to 1A. The guy sitting in 1B looks at me and says, "Aren’t you traveling with someone?" After I nod, he says, "Why don’t I switch with him?" I explain that he’s in coach and he shakes his head to say "no problem" but I proceed to protest and point out that he’s in a center seat in coach and he protests further by saying that he flies all the time and no problem, no problem, I should sit with my partner…

By this time, first is wide-eyed. I mean, what business traveler in their right mind wants to give up a bulkhead first seat to sit in a center in coach? But before I manage to protest louder, he grabs his stuff and heads back to coach. The woman behind me and I laugh uncomfortably with big eyes, verbalizing what we were thinking: "did that really happen?"

Sure enough, he proceeds to sit in coach. The flight attendants are astonished and find him a seat in the back with more room and continue on to send back ice cream and food and whatnot. At one point, I asked one of the flight attendants how he was doing and she smiled and said that he was an extremely kind man and that the flight attendants were all loving him. That she had never in her day seen someone give up a first class seat as a random act of kindness. We were all quite floored.

The truth is that I was completely flabbergasted and without a script in which to operate. I never caught the man’s name. I couldn’t find him after we landed. I never really got to properly say thank you. But, Mr. Nice Businessman, if you’re out there, I want you to know that your random act of kindness made me a giddy happy kid; flying home next to G was really wonderful. And you made a lot of people smile. So THANK YOU!

I’ll resist my temptation to comment beyond thanks danah!


6 replies
  1. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    Thanks Charlie.  I’m a tad jaded by all the negative doom & gloom in the press of late, so this was a breath of fresh air. Nice to hear about a genuinely nice person for a change!  What a refreshingly positive example of a businessperson’s behavior other than "screw them!"

  2. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Charles, as usual a great post.  It is absolutely amazing how much impact you can have in someone else’s life through random acts of kindness.  I wish that I could remember that more in my life and I wish that everyone would remember that more.  It has an enormous impact. 

    Great post!

    Jeremy @ RefocusingTechnology.com

  3. Mary Beth Campbell
    Mary Beth Campbell says:

    Wow. As a frequent traveler who has come to believe that flying brings out the worst in humanity, this blows me away. It’s things like this that make me think there’s hope. Let’s be more like this guy. Heard of Boom Boom! Cards? Trackable random acts of kindness. Make the world a better place. Check ’em out: http://www.boomboomcards.com

  4. Paul Hebert
    Paul Hebert says:

    It is too bad we can’t find the guy … he’s the guy I’d like to do business with and recommend.  Regardless of what he does/has – I want to be associated with it!

  5. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Paul’s comment resonates with me…in this way.

    We can find "that guy". Trite as it may sound, s/he resides in all of us. As for doing business with him (generic), that’s a good question. In the world of quantum physics, where there could be two of "me", the question then becomes, "Would I want to do business with me?" And, on a larger scale, "Of all the people I know, would I choose "me" to be in relationship with first?"

    Airport culture is an interesting phenomenon. A true sub-culture in its own right. An interesting book explores this: "Step Back from the Baggage Claim" (I have no conection to the book/the author)



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