Kindness of strangers: We all have the potential to make someone smile or save their life – Karyn McCluskey

Jack Monroe works to help those in food poverty but there are many ways we can all make a difference (Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire)

Lots of us will have in our phone’s favorites list someone who would drop everything for you, no matter what.

There is something really special about having people in your life who you know are always there for you. People who’ll stick with you through thick and thin; who pick you up when you’re down; who are there regardless of your flaws and mistakes. And we’re there for them too – ready when it’s our turn to be called into action, to answer “Yes, I’ll be there”.

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But what if your life’s taken so many turns that your connections are broken? You’re isolated, or perhaps you’ve never been able to rely on anyone.

What if, at your most desperate, the only thing between you and the abyss is a stranger? Someone you meet by chance becomes your only lifeline between a catastrophic outcome and hope.

I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few days after reading about a woman in great difficulty, escaping trauma and hurt, and in desperate need of some help with her recovery. The help she so desperately needed was found in the kindness of a stranger.

These ‘kind strangers’ are peppered throughout our third and public sector, but not everyone likes them. These special humans refuse to be warned. They see what you need and set out with dogged persistence to make it happen.

They look at processes, which might have been set up with the best of intentions, and circumvent them because they know by the time you get through the box-checking and form-filling, you just might be dead. They are often obtuse, and always relentless. They let their values, humanity and the preciousness of human life guide their every decision.

For those of us on the receiving end of this persistence, it can be wearing, especially when you want to help but can’t. You know that when you say “no”, it won’t derail them.

Instead they’ll be onto someone else in the single-minded pursuit of help for someone who needs it. I meet lots of parents whose children are in addiction and they excel at this, not by choice but out of desperation to save their children.

There are many on the front-line who are being that person, right now: the recovery community fighting for those still battling their addiction; the Glasgow law students fighting the death penalty for people they’ve never met; the Jack Monroes fighting for those in food poverty; the charity workers who fight for those in desperate need. All fighting to make the world a better place – even if it’s one person at a time.

There is so much that feels too big and difficult to do anything about as an individual – and that feeling can be paralyzing. What difference can one action by one person really make?

But the kindness of one stranger to another can do everything from making a person smile to saving their life. And the beauty of it is, you don’t need special training. With some humanity and empathy, we all have the potential to be someone’s stranger.

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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