COLUMN: A glimpse of sunshine from under an umbrella

Focusing on the rare acts of kindness in a sometimes mean world is important, writes Melissa Smalley.

I hate to be a downer, but we live in a society full of jerks.

You don’t have to look far to see examples of terrible behaviour all around us – bikes stolen from yards, animals abused and neglected, con-artists scamming seniors or faking cancer to reap financial benefits.

It can be enough to make you want to run off into the woods and live like a hermit, free from the strain of having to deal with other people.

Nowhere is humankind’s tendency towards all things awful more apparent than on our Lower Mainland roads.

As a commuter, not a day goes by that I don’t see at least one act of blatant disregard for others on my way to or from work – tailgating, intentionally cutting another motorist off, not allowing someone to merge when the rules call for it, the list goes on and on.

In this age of cellphone cameras in every purse or pocket, there have even been some well-documented – and cringe-worthy – cases of road rage that have escalated to full-on fisticuffs in recent months.

Where does all this callousness and insensitivity come from?

While it’s understandable that on occasion everyone has a bad day, and may unwillingly take it out on an innocent stranger, some people are just legitimate buttheads, going about their daily lives without consideration for those around them.

When such charming behaviour is directed at me, I’m often overcome with anger and frustration, itching to retaliate in whatever satisfying, albeit immature, way I can.

I never do. Partly because I really hate confrontation, but also because by the time I think of a suitable form of revenge, the moment has long past.

And even though I refrain from striking back, I will admit that I’m someone who has a hard time letting go of such experiences.

I can still recite with alarming accuracy every angry email I’ve ever received – and in this line of business, you get more than one or two.

While I realize it’s unhealthy to hang on to negative feelings stemming from unpleasant encounters, I do have a secret weapon to ease my anger.

It’s an umbrella.

While umbrellas aren’t usually associated with thoughts of happier times, this particular bumbershoot – large and stylish, with a comfortable grip and easy-open button – brings me a sense of contentment every time I reach for it.

It was just over two years ago that it came into my life.

My husband and I were headed downtown for a concert. Having stepped off the SkyTrain near Rogers Arena, we started heading for a local pub to grab a bite to eat, when suddenly, it started raining.

Two middle-aged, well-dressed men – perhaps on their way home after a few after-work beverages – stopped us on the sidewalk, handing my husband the umbrella.

“Here,” one of the men said. “You’ll want to keep your lady dry.”

And off they went.

We stood there in the rain, shocked by what had just happened.

It was an unexpected act of kindness that my husband and I had never really experienced in this city, and one that we still recall fondly. The memory of that evening brightens my spirit every time I reach for that umbrella on an otherwise miserable, rainy day, and I’m reminded that not everyone out there is mean and inconsiderate.

It’s always nice to try and focus on the positive instead of the negative. Working in the news industry, that can be a difficult task, as more often than not, stories we encounter tend to lean towards the darker side of humanity.

But if you look hard enough, you just might be able to find reasons to have faith in humanity after all, and motivation to turn the other cheek the next time someone cuts in line or flips you the bird.

After all, we’ve got enough jerks on this planet already.

Melissa Smalley is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

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