Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goodness isn't always popular

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OTTAWA -- Winnipeg bus driver Kris Doubledee was proclaimed a hero last week for a simple act of kindness to a stranger.

He stopped his bus mid-route to get off and hand over the shoes on his feet to a homeless man walking barefoot in downtown Winnipeg.

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For his generosity, Doubledee is having his 15 minutes of fame, thanks to a passenger who witnessed the act and was so moved by it she wrote about it. Her online post went viral and was picked up by international media. Doubledee was flown to New York Friday to appear on the CBS This Morning show Saturday.

You know you've hit the aw-shucks nerve when the U.S. morning shows are interested.

What was perhaps most remarkable about Doubledee's action wasn't just that he gave up something of his own to a complete stranger. It was that he did it without pausing to judge whether the man deserved the shoes, whether the man was to blame for his current predicament or whether he would turn around and sell the shoes for drugs or liquor.

He saw a man in need and stepped in to help.

However, such judgments were made by many people, including commenters on the Free Press website.

It seems to some that a simple act of compassion is a sign of stupidity and weakness.

As a society, we have become so accustomed to passing drive-by judgments on everyone around us we hardly notice it anymore. We appear predisposed to dislike anyone who disagrees with us, and we are led there by politicians who slam even their gentlest critics as stupid, communist, fascist or whatever negative label they can spout off the top of their heads. The more hyperbole the better.

There is little empathy left for people in a difficult spot. If you are homeless or an alcoholic or on welfare, you must have done something wrong, and therefore you deserve no help.

At the same time Doubledee's selflessness was being debated, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was being lambasted for judging nearly half the population of the United States as lazy and entitled.

A video of a speech Romney gave at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser showed him saying 47 per cent of Americans didn't pay federal income tax and therefore weren't going to be persuaded by his message of lowering taxes.

It might have been fine if he had stopped there.

But Romney went on to pass judgment on the people he says don't pay income tax and to write them off completely.

"And so my job is not to worry about those people -- I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he said.

According to the man running to be president of the United States, nearly half its citizens simply don't matter because, well, according to him they're lazy and they don't agree with him.

Which may be well and good when you're crafting an election strategy, but it's kind of hard to convince people you will ever care about them when you're writing off the poor in front of a crowd of people who just paid $50,000 each for the privilege to eat some rubber chicken while you speak.

And tougher for Romney still is that a poll suggested two-thirds of Americans were more likely to identify with the poor people he was writing off than the wealthy people he was speaking to.

To think this is an American problem is to ignore the pure vitriol in Canadian politics, to overlook the lack of genuine debate and to revel in the nastiness of the conversations taking place in Ottawa.

Members of Parliament, Romney, and all of us, should take a lesson from Doubledee.

Not that we should all do what he did. We shouldn't really expect that Romney should stop his campaign bus to give a passerby the shirt off his back. But if that passerby should happen to be in a tough spot or have an opinion that doesn't jibe with Romney's view of the world, stopping to listen without judgment might be a good alternative.

You don't have to walk away agreeing, but walking away at least giving some thought to what someone with a different opinion just said, without calling them a name, might be a good place to start.

A little more openness of the mind and heart could be a benefit to us all.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2012 B1

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