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All we need is…kindness?

Posted in Life & Love

Last week, I nearly choked to death. Not metaphorically – I literally nearly choked to death. But this post is not about my actual experience, as unfortunate as it was; rather, as the friend sitting next to me quickly understood what was going on, told me to get up from my seat and promptly applied the Heimlich maneuver, it’s about what happened afterwards. Or what didn’t happen.

We were in a sushi restaurant, a girls’ dinner – trying to answer a question that was posed as I put a piece of sushi in my mouth, I swallowed too quickly, without chewing properly a piece of raw octopus that god lodged in my throat and refused to budge. I knew I was in trouble when I took a drink of water and I could feel the water just sitting in my throat. It was pretty disconcerting.

The Heimlich maneuver, by the way, works like a charm: it makes you cough, instantly projecting the food out of your mouth. The whole episode lasted no more than 60 seconds – still, a grown woman in the middle of a restaurant, being grabbed from behind and regurgitating a piece of octopus couldn’t have gone unnoticed. Not a single person came over to see if I was okay or if I needed medical attention, while I kept coughing uncontrollably for a while.

After the panic subsided, my friends and I were pretty stunned that, after gawking like you do an accident on the freeway, everyone turned back to their dinner (including me).

The next day, as I was driving to work down the canyon where I live, a white van in front of me, I saw a man lying on the side of the street, eyes closed, very still. The white van carried on as if nothing was amiss. Perplexed, I stopped, lowered my window and yelled if everything was alright. The man gave me a thumb up – he was probably just drunk but, then again, he could have been sick or dead.

The episode made me think of a post I read a few days before, by an English woman, about the all around lack of kindness (please forgive me, I can’t find the piece anymore but, if you are reading, please leave a comment and I will link to it). She was in a park, saw a woman passed out on a bench, with dozens of passers-by completely indifferent to her, so she stopped to call an ambulance. The writer remarked – quite correctly – that our recent habit of insulating ourselves in digital worlds is creating a bubble that makes human interactions less real and, in the process, kills kindness.

As I write this, a news alert flashing on my phone details the latest mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas, in a one light town where the 26 people killed represented 7% of the entire population. In a world that has gone bat crazy, I am more and more convinced that kindness towards one another is what stands between us and an abyss from which we could not dig ourselves out of were  we to fall in.

If we let slide the little things, the small everyday kindnesses, the please and thank you, it will be so much harder when the time comes to stand up and help with the larger things.

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19 Comments

  1. Whoa, that must have been scary! Glad you had a friend to help you, because you’re right, with the alienation we so often see nowadays, I shudder to think what could have happened if you were dining on your own… We need to re-humanise ourselves ASAP, how did we get to this?!

    November 16, 2017
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    • I got home and googled how to do the Heimlich maneuver on yourself if you are alone! It can be done…

      November 17, 2017
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  2. Glad to hear you are okay and that someone at your table decided to step up to the rescue. I’m still uncertain whether our digital progress has made us more callous or not. However, your post reminded me of the “bystander effect” researched by psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané in 1974, a case of “someone else will do something” which happens in crowds.

    November 7, 2017
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    • Interesting reference.Crowd mentality is often herd mentality, following blindly instead of taking the initiative or, worse still, inaction.

      November 9, 2017
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  3. Having been Heimliched [a word?] once, I understand your panic then relief. We depend on other people to be aware and helpful. The advent of “screens” everywhere, and the hypnotic power that they seem to hold over most people, is making simple kindnesses a thing of the past. I don’t know if people fear reality so they avoid it with screens, or if they’re just too lazy to try. Either way I don’t like the indifference out there.

    November 7, 2017
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    • If it is not a verb, it should definitely be! Never was I happier for Dr. Heimlich than that night.

      November 7, 2017
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  4. So grateful your friend was able to help you. You’re right, modern day living has created individual bubbles that threatened the fiber of humanity. It often makes me ashamed to be part of this species far too often.

    November 7, 2017
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    • Isn’t that a sad thought! Apparently, on top of everything else, in this country we are dealing with the Trump trauma that, on people like us, is taking a more severe toll than imagined.

      November 7, 2017
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  5. Amen, sister! It’s those little acts of kindness that make the biggest difference. If we just turn a blind eye, nothing is going to change for the better.

    November 7, 2017
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    • Which, incidentally, sometimes I have to remind myself of….or guilt myself into, like going back to pick up a piece of trash I saw with the corner of my eye and tried to ignore until my conscience came knocking.

      November 7, 2017
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  6. I agree so much with this post and am so glad you are okay. What a scary ordeal that must have been. It’s so disheartening to hear that not one person came to see if you were okay.

    November 7, 2017
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    • And where are all those doctors who seem to always spring into action when an emergency arises???

      November 7, 2017
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  7. How fortunate that your friend knew exactly what to do. It must have been terrifying for you to realize that the water wasn’t going down your throat. I’m very glad that you’re okay.

    As for the other diners, perhaps they didn’t want to embarrass you any more than they thought you already had been? It does seem rather odd, though, that not one of them even sidled up to your table to discreetly ask one of your friends if you were all right.

    I’ve discovered during the last few years that the one quality I prize above all else is kindness. It takes so little to show kindness to a fellow being on this planet – a friend, a stranger, an animal – and yet it multiplies the more we give it away. It makes us feel good inside, seems to physically warm our hearts, and oils the squeaky wheels of this old world just a little bit more. And we all need more of that.

    November 7, 2017
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    • My friend actually had never done it before but she saw it in movies and just went for it! How crazy is that? I guess it is simpler than we think. I was actually stunned that nobody from the restaurant staff came over. I was a director of operations at large museum eateries and, had I been on the floor and seen something like that happen, I wouldn’t have hesitated to rush over. You are probably right about the embarrassment factor but, if I am dying, I would rather they embarrassed me than leave me there….

      November 7, 2017
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  8. You are so right. Indifference is insidious – it de-humanizes us.

    November 7, 2017
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