Yesterday, I was walking along Passeig de Gràcia with a new acquaintance. And all of a sudden, she asked me if we could stop and ask the homeless man on the street how he was doing. She said that she had seen him many times in the past and that he looked worse today. And that she was too shy to do it alone. So, I said yes and we spent the next half hour or so just chatting with the old man.
This small event really touched me and together with all the other encounters this week, it made me reflect on kindness. Years ago, my default assumption was that, until proven wrong, people are only kind because they have something to get out of you. It was not hard to develop that mindset, coming from a background where there is so much poverty and crime. I’ve had my laptop and phone stolen in the past. There were many times that people would try to help me (like helping me look for an item in a shopping district, helping me find a place when I was lost) but actually had other intentions. Due to all these experiences and all those I’ve heard from my other friends, it was just difficult to trust other people by default. If somebody is overly kind, you have to start suspecting. My instinct is to check my pocket if that stranger is taking my wallet already.
But, over the years, I’ve really changed. I’ve become kinder and more trustful of people. It has even surprised me that some colleagues comment how nice I have been to them.
Reflecting on it, one of the early reasons for this transformation was having met my girlfriend, who has been the kindest person I’ve met. But, more than her, I’ve been lucky to have experienced a lot of kindness from strangers since moving to Europe. Throughout my travels, there have been countless times that people helped me without asking for anything in return.
These days, I’ve been interviewing venture capitalists, accelerators, managers and CEOs. It still surprises me how generous they can be with their time and insights despite not receiving anything in return. I’m just a random stranger contacting them anyway. Similarly, I’ve met many academics who are just so kind in sharing their expertise and giving advice.
Not really sure how to end this piece. But, it just made me reflect also on the relation between nice-ness and success. It seems like they are not really independent. So far, the most successful people I’ve met have also been some of the nicest. There’s probably some study there that explains what causes what. Is it that richer countries / people can afford to be nicer since they don’t have to worry to much about certain things? Or is it that to be successful you have to be nice?