The Kindness of Strangers

I have encountered two incidents in the past week that were the catalyst for me writing this post.

The first occurred during my evening commute home from work. I’d left Highbury and Islington Station, feeling tired (and a touch lazy) I made the executive decision to wait for the bus rather than walk home. While queuing at the bus stop I felt a noticeable amount of pressure on my handbag which was wedged under my left arm.

However I must interject here and point out that I carry an oversized handbag (I have a lot of work paraphernalia I need to lug round on a day to day basis) the bag has 3 separate compartments and the middle compartment zips closed, however I admit I am guilty of never using the zip on my bag.

Anyway upon feeling this pressure being exerted on my bag I discreetly turned around to investigate the source of the problem. I discovered that there was a man behind me and after assessing the situation I concluded that he was one of those odd people that doesn’t adhere to the socially accepted notion of personal space. I did however clutch my bag to my side a little more tightly than before but in all honesty I dismissed my paranoia as just that.

Moments later a woman who was stood nearby asked me for the time. To which I obliged, she then told me that she had something to show me on her phone. I confess dear friends I found this extremely odd but she must’ve noticed my hesitance as she became a little more insistent that I move towards her. So I proceeded with caution.

She then explained in hushed tones that the man behind me (the one exerting the pressure on my bag) had been peering in for the purpose of (I can only assume) seeing what he could steal. Alas I cannot adequately describe the gratitude I felt to this stranger. I don’t ever carry cash on me for fear of someone stealing my purse, that and I’m a massive advocate of the digital age. Having said that I’m convinced that needing to replace a whole purse/wallet is one of the most annoying modern world inconveniences the human being has to experience.

The second incident occurred a mere 3 days later, I’d agreed to meet my cousin at Kings Cross underground station. For those who may not have had the pleasure of experiencing rush hour in London. Kings Cross is one of the busier stations with people rushing hither and thither narrowly avoiding bumping into each other as they break out of the fast moving ant line to rush off in whichever direction their destination forces them to go.

We arranged to meet at the intersection by the escalators between the Picadilly line and Northern line platforms. I’ve since discovered it’s not a very common meeting place, probably for good reason. Now while I do possess an inner confidence some may lack, being small of stature, there are certain situations I do find intimidating. I was waiting for OP at the pre-arranged meeting spot when I heard an unexpected shout. I couldn’t locate where the noise had come from until I was accosted by a quite obviously drunk man. Without excusing his behaviour, I will say I can only assume that his actions were heavily influenced by his intoxication. The aforesaid drunk man encroached upon my personal space reaching out to put his hands on my arms then, I believe, noting my horrified expression he thought better of the unsolicited contact.

At this point slurring his words and leering into my face he uttered “we need help” with my back to the wall and the drunken man a mere 3 inches away from my face my escape routes were limited. My first instinct was to ignore him but I didn’t want to do anything to provoke his potential anger, so I responded using as few words as possible “with what?”

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed not one but two complete strangers approach us to see what was going on. My potential attacker then stated that he needed to get to Camden and my self appointed saviour jumped in and replied “Camden is this way” while gesturing my would be assailant down the escalator. After ensuring I was ok, both of my impromptu heroes went about their business.

This is by no means the most terrified I’ve ever been nor do I think that he actually meant me any real harm. However the reason that these particular incidents made such an impression is that there are people out there who are in very real danger every day. And my friends sometimes we are unwitting witnesses to these calamities that befall others. And what struck me most, is that in both cases, I was fortunate enough to receive unexpected help from people who did not know me from Adam but who made it their business to ensure I was ok.

I’m sure you’ll have been exposed to these horrifying stories about gropings on public transport, sexual assaults at festivals, racially motivated violent attacks, incidents of domestic violence gone too far. I could go on as the list of atrocities is endless. However I do wonder how many of these crimes could potentially be prevented if upon sensing something was wrong a bystander was to intervene? How often has your intuition hummed at you that a situation you could see in front of you just wasn’t quite right? And if you are truly honest with yourself when you noticed that the atmosphere didn’t quite sit right with you, did you do anything to try to prevent it?

Now don’t get me wrong I am by no means saying that we should all go roaming the streets like vigilantes fighting crime where we see it and offing bad guys as we go. Not even taking into account the threat we would place on our own safety, it is just not practical. But intervention isn’t always a matter of you having to come face to face with a ‘baddy’. It could be as simple a matter as reporting what you’ve witnessed to the relevant authorities before it’s too late. If you ever studied AS Level or Degree level Psychology then you will have been acquainted with the case of Kitty Genovese. In which nearly 40 of Kitty’s neighbours heard her cries for help as she was being murdered on her own doorstep and not one of them called the police. And despite the ensuing studies into bystander behaviour and the resulting theories expounded to explain this madness I am still baffled that they coudn’t perform an action so simple, it didn’t even require them to leave their apartment to face down the perpetrator.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel compelled to help don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger and be prepared that the victim you’ve identified may not need or even want your assistance. However I can honestly say I would rather ask a stranger if they’re ok and they not need it than not listen to my intuition, ignore the situation and then read their tragic story in an article the next day. And so I say a massive thank you to the 3 strangers who this week took it upon themselves to intervene when I myself was in potential danger.

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