It is a truism of both religion and biology that humans are simultaneously selfish and altruistic. The faithful say the selfishness comes from original sin and the goodness from God, while the biologist imputes our selfishness to evolution (for how better can you ensure propagation of your genes than by taking care of yourself and your kin first?); and, as for altruism, cooperation and kindness, they’re probably partly derived from adaptive reciprocal altruism evolved when we lived in small social groups, and partly from a cultural overlay of expanded cooperation derived from reason (we now see that we don’t occupy any privileged position relative to others in society).
Regardless, I saw both traits demonstrated this week. Last Saturday afternoon I parked my car in front of my building at work; I usually use it on the weekends and then leave it at work in case I need to use it during the week. On Wednesday I looked out the window of my lab (I can overlook the car, which is nice) to see a huge dent in the front fender on the driver’s side. Going down to investigate, I saw that it was indeed a large, fresh dent, which I photographed this morning.
But I also found a note stuck in my door handle.
The note said this (I’ve redacted names and phone numbers):
I saw the guy hit your left front fender in the snow. It was a [model and make of car redacted], with the Illinois plate [license plate number redacted]. Best of luck.
[phone number of person who wrote note redacted]. That’s all I saw, but feel free to call if you want.”
So while I was enormously peeved that someone had dinged me and run off, I was touched that a passerby took the time to take down the license number and description of the car and leave it for me, along with his phone number.
I called the number, which turned out to belong to a medical student here at the University. He reported that he saw the guy hit my car while backing out in the snow, and then get out of his car and inspect the damage to both his SUV and mine. At that time the student told him, “You know, you should leave a note for the owner.” The dinger said, “Yeah, I guess I should,” but the student suspected he wouldn’t. So he took out a pen and wrote all the information down on a piece of paper, which he later put on my car when he returned and found no note from the malefactor.
I reported it to my insurance company and the University police, which ran the plates of the car that hit me and identified the owner. They also filed a formal report with the state of Illinois (I guess hit and run, even if it doesn’t hurt someone, violates some law or other). My insurance company will fix the damage for nearly free, (I have to pay a small deductable). I don’t know what will happen to the miscreant who hit me and ran: probably nothing except that my insurance company will force his to pony up for the damage to my car.
This is about the fourth time this has happened to me in my life, and only once has someone left a note—a woman visiting from California, and the damage was so minor that I didn’t do anything about it. But it’s a truly vile act to damage someone’s property and then abscond without taking responsibility. They do it because, of course, they think they can get away with it. But this guy didn’t, thanks to a kind and observant student.
It’s a slow news day, so I’m reporting this, but it does show what we all know: some people are jerks and others go out of their way to be helpful. The next time you’re on the bus and an old person gets on, don’t be one of those who keeps your sit or pretends not to notice. Stand up and let the older person sit down.
If you’ve had experiences with really nice strangers, report them below (car-bashing jerks or others can also be reported).