Wednesday, June 10, 2015

There are Better Ways to Be Kind

A television commercial recently caught my eye.  And not in a good way.

An elderly woman is trapped in the middle of a four-lane street.  An SUV stops to let her finish crossing.  But when the driver realizes that other drivers are still passing through the intersection, he pulls forward, hops out, and escorts the woman to the curb.

The Dignity Health commercial ends with the tag line “Hello humankindness “, supposedly leaving us feeling warm and fuzzy about what fine people we can be.

Well, not so fast.

By my tally, twelve cars and two city buses pass through the intersection while the woman is stranded.  With the law and common decency requiring vehicles to stop for safe pedestrian crossings, it seems a remarkably poor example of “humankindness”.

And to go even further, isn’t there something unkind about forcing the woman to cross the busy street in the first place?

How about if we instead define “humankindness” to include the building of neighborhoods where senior citizens of limited mobility don’t need to cross four-lane streets to do daily shopping?  Or if we at least include traffic calming on four-lane streets so the vehicular speed are slowed, making respect for crosswalks more likely?  That seems a better standard of “humankindness”.

Of course, more walkable destinations and slower traffic speeds are both part of the urbanist toolkit.  I must be hanging out with kind people.

The other question is how the Dignity Health public relations department, advertising firm, and management team all failed to notice the absence of kindness in most of the drivers in the commercial.  It seems a poor showing for a hospital operator that brags of being a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation.  After seventy years of sprawl, too many of us have become inured to its manifestations.  And that’s too bad.

(There are two other commercials in the Humankindess campaign, one about saving a whale shark from a fishing net and the other about saving a dog from a flood control channel.  It’s interesting that all three must be saved from an aspect of our built world.  Although I’m unsure how to feel about sharks, dogs, and little old ladies being placed on the same level.)

Next time, I’ll write about a recent week in which I found myself doubly shunned.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (


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    1. re: "How about if we instead define “humankindness” to include the building of neighborhoods where senior citizens of limited mobility don’t need to cross four-lane streets to do daily shopping?" Your unique liberal arts cum engineering degree from Cal seems to be shining through here! I am indebted to liberal arts education. I think we all are and would do well if more tech, business and vocation-oriented degrees were grounded in the good old liberal arts. It's about being not only engineers and entrepreneurs, but intelligent human beings. Early on in my own graduate study I was invited to explore the question, "What does I mean to be human?" Decades later, it's still a good question, whether I am wearing my educator hat or my citizen advocate hat.

    2. Barry, thanks for the comment. I've always thought the cross-education should go both ways. I'm fine with the science side being exposed to the liberal arts. I'm happy to have taken classes in Dostoevsky and Tolstoy while at Cal. But I also think that the liberal arts folks should have greater exposure to science, whether differential calculus, Newtonian physics, or introduction to computer programming. I think it's good to know that some problems truly do have unarguable answers and it might lead to a population better capable of grasping the science behind induced traffic or climate change.