Small acts of Goodwill


Here’s something that happened to me one evening…

It was some years ago. I had just restarted my business in London. Money was very tight and London is a very expensive city to live in. I had just seen a private client for a home visit acupuncture visit. I’d received £40 for that visit. It was very welcome money for me to recieve. I would put it towards my living costs or bills of which there were many.

I was on my way home. It was winter and the evening was dark in North London. When I left the station, a woman came up to me. She seeed distressed and then told me a long story that she had left her home that evening to run away from her husband who she said was threatening her with domestic abuse. She asked me to help her with money as she needed to travel to stay with her family, but she didnt have any money. Could I help her out? She was really stuck.


It sounded very genuine and I hate to be cynical, but the truth is, in London, there are quite a few people around who will tell you this kind of story to try to get money out of you. I’ve been approached a few times and after a while you become ‘street-wise’. You realise that from some people – these are just stories, to get money from you. I’m from the countryside in the Midlands. I never encountered people asking me for money where I grew up. However, When I first came to London, I was surprised at how often it occurred. I think generally people genuinely want to help when another being is in trouble, but at the same time we don’t want to be taken advantage of. At first, I would give money to a few people, but after a few years, I refused to give money anymore to anyone, because I felt it doesn’t really help.

What would you do?

But this encounter at night was a curious one for me. The story sounded genuine. Usually, I would excuse myself and move on, but in this situation I was drawn in. I couldn’t tell if it was an elaborate story or not. My gut feeling told me it was probably not true, but what if it wasn’t?

So anyway I gave that woman half of what I earned that night. I would have given her a smaller denomination if I could, but all I had on me with was those two twenty-pound notes that I had been paid with. I chose to err’ towards believing her. Perhaps she really was running away from a difficult situation. Perhaps not. Nonetheless, it was a lot of money for  me to give her at this time in my life. Afterwards, I wondered if there was lesson for me in this. I really couldn’t think of one, but now and again I remember that night and contemplate on it.

In the grand scheme of things

I don’t think it would have made any difference what I did – whether I gave money or refused. I don’t think I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t given her money. I guess I’m indifferent. I suppose it’s just one of those things that happen that make you stop and think.

I realise I usually intend to convey a message or something in my posts, but this one doesn’t. I guess this post is more of a snapshot of an experience. I felt compelled to write this post without any reason. But then as I write this article suddenly something else comes to mind. Perhaps it relates.

Recently I brought down a lot of old family photos and various other possessions to look after from my mothers house. I feel it is time for me to take over as custodian of them. Among them is a handwritten letter written to my father in 1961. It was a thank you letter.

Christmas Day 1961, Edgware, North London

On Christmas day of 1961, a husband and wife broke down in north London. Perhaps they were on their way to visit family in some other part of the London or elsewhere. My father stopped and helped them. I think he dropped them off at a local train station. He even went as far as to drop their car key off at a local garage so the garage could pick up and repair their car after the holidays. At the time he was 22 years old. How many 22 years today would go out their way to do this type of thing today? Not many I think.

I guess these days, we have road-rescue services and they would work on Christmas day, but back then, it was not so common. Some people would ignore people who had broken down. But my father was the kind of person to stop and help. When I was a small child, I remember him doing the same thing to someone else. He pulled up behind a broken-down car on the highway and gave them a tow to the nearest garage.

This was a simple thank you letter which for some unknown reason, had not been thrown out. And its strange – as I re-read this letter, the year is 2018 and that incident is long past and forgotten. It is no longer significant. The people he helped may well have passed on by now. Yet, somehow I feel that small act of goodwill imprinted itself onto the universe. That letter is a record of it. So for this reason I will continue to store it to show my children so they will know what kind of person he was (and is – he is still alive and well).

Small acts of goodwill

The picture above, is the envelope the letter came in. The picture of the Queen on the stamp shows her a lot younger back then. Here is a PDF copy of the letter as a future record for my own son to read when he is older, should this blog  article survive. I have blocked out the addresses of my father and the family they helped. I’m sure it doesn’t matter now, whether I reveal someone’s private address from over 50 years ago, but you never know.

So my thought is that, perhaps every act of good-will that we do to others is never really forgotten. Perhaps it leaves a small mark on the world. Strangely enough that act may even be recorded and shared to the world in an unanticipated way, such as this blog article written 50 years later on the internet. Back then, no one could have anticipated the internet, blogs and email. And perhaps the whole point of that letter surviving all these years is so that I would decide to write this post? For what purpose? Maybe none.

On reflection, I think of these two incidents just over 50 year’s apart. There is a difference between them. When my father helped those travellers, he did so entirely, with a true intention of goodwill and feeling of giving. On the other hand, with my encounter, my act of goodwill came from a position of distrust and suspicion and I think that will always cloud that encounter. And in this case, it is probably better not to help, then to do so reluctantly. If I decide to give, then do so with gratitude and full belief that I really am helping. I should let go of the doubt.

Changing World, Changing attitudes

Perhaps these differences reflect how the world has changed in 50 years. Those days, people probably trusted each other more. On the other hand, London has become a place, where people always seem to want to get something from you. For example, a couple of decades ago, you’d never get sales calls over the landline. Nowadays, the only time a landline rings is when you get called by a salesman or sales-bot, so consequently, people stop paying for landlines now and only use mobiles. But even now that is changing. I get lots of sales calls to my mobile. Its usually people trying to sell me sponsored google listings to put my other business website on page one.

It tells me something about my own attitude. From this experience, I have learnt that perhaps I have become too distrusting of others and have too much of a scarcity mindset. There is a lack of faith in others. There are circumstance in life that have made me this way, and certainly I would like to learn to start trusting in people again instead off always having to be on guard. So this is another reason to keep that old letter – to teach me, that when I do acts of goodwill, to do so from the heart.