The Death Of Random Acts of Kindness: A Panda’s Personal Manifesto

It was another afternoon of heavy traffic. Not unusual when taking the toll way. One of those afternoons where you couldn’t help but want it to stay as perfect as it was. The AC was turned to a comfortable temperature, the I-Pass was getting me through my tolls without hesitation and the radio came in loud and clear with the melodies of a long ride back home falling in little delicate tendrils behind me as I drove (if you can call System of a Down melodic). Nothing could possibly go wrong.

However for the elderly couple in front of me, things were not going according to plan. Traffic was tight, and despite their best efforts, they simply could not catch a break getting into the lane next to them. As they and I neared the toll booth I could see a tension and distress in their movements. They tried to be more assertive, signaling for several yards hoping someone would be willing to let them in, but to no avail. They were stuck and upon entering the threshold of the booth, and unlike all the cars before them,the light did not change green, nor did the arm raise up to set them free. They were trapped in the I-Pass lane without an I-Pass. Caged birds unwilling to sing.

I watched them as they pushed the help button. Cars behind us honked and beeped frustrated at the problem vehicle. With each sounding blow I felt the composure of the poor elderly couple slowing disintegrating as they kept pressing the button…to which no attendant responded. I knew that feeling of being caught in the wrong booth. It’s humiliating enough when you’re young and inexperienced, but it was quite another when you were older and people expected you to keep up with the ever changing fast paced society. In my head I kept remembering the poem The little Boy and the Little Old Man (suggested reading:

My heart felt for them.

It had been almost 5 min. Still no attendant had responded to the help call. In my anger toward the impatient people behind me, and my heart for those poor confused elderly people I grabbed my I-Pass and left my vehicle.

“Excuse me, but would you like me to scan you through?” I shouted over the noise of the traffic around me.

“Oh, if you would please.” Said the woman driving looking relieved.

Now, how an I-Pass works: When you purchase an Pass you receive a barcode with it. When the Barcode is activated online or by phone you are requested to give the license plate and vehicle information of all the vehicles that would be using the Pass. As you go through the I-Pass lanes the scanner takes a photo of the vehicle’s plates. If the information does not add up at the scanner, the system keeps note of it.

I scanned them through and returned to my vehicle. At first feared that a fine would be in the mail soon, but after a moment I realized how much I really didn’t care. I could afford it, and in the end it was worth it to help people in need.

This story brings up two obvious issues. The first is the lack of respect for those who are technologically inept. My generation and those after me are used to living integrated with computers in our ears, on our hips, in our pockets and so on. We tend to forget about those who are not as technologically savvy as the rest of us, and when they prove their lack of knowledge to be true, we find ourselves frustrated and even outraged. The second issue is that of the rules of technology. I knew there was a high possibility of getting fined for my action, but is the imposition of such rules causing us to be less and less willing to make acts of kindness a regular part of our daily lives?

Part of me wants to say that people can choose to do the right thing for themselves, but then there is another part of me that knows money is a huge deterrent. People won’t do things that cost them, especially if they gain nothing in return. Perhaps it is the common plight of humanity, and not necessarily a technological issue, but in the end I fear that technology isn’t helping (especially those that involve laws eliminating the possibility of selfless use), and neither is lack of common courtesy. We live in a world that doesn’t smile enough…what is that makes us so prone to frown?


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