The Kindness of Strangers

Craigslist JoeI love a good documentary. Like taking a walk on a day when I’m feeling particularly pudgy, watching something fact-based, with content intended to make me think, leaves me feeling like I’ve done something good for myself.

Several weeks ago, I discovered Craigslist Joe, a documentary about a fella who tries living for 30 days using only what he can find for free on Craigslist – food, shelter, transportation, everything. It appealed to the spendthrift in me – the challenge of making do without spending any money – and I figured I’d be inspired by his story or maybe pick up some ideas from his experience. As it turned out, Craigslist Joe has nothing to do with pinching pennies and everything to do with relying on the kindness of strangers.

For example, Joe could search for ride-sharing opportunities (I was amazed at how far he traveled) and could find ways to fill his time (with no home and no employment, there are a lot of empty hours). But, if he wanted something to eat or a place to lay his head, he had to initiate some kind of relationship – volunteering, taking a free class, attending an event – in the hope of making a new friend willing to share their meal or their home. The vulnerability he displayed was breathtaking, as he virtually crowd-surfed for 30 days, tossing himself into the sea of humanity and trusting they’d bear his weight.

Even more fascinating to me was the juxtaposition of technology and human interaction. Craigslist’s online message boards give the impression of offering all the benefit of interacting with another person, without the muss and fuss of eye contact or last names. But I witnessed the very opposite of that, as Joe made deep connections with total strangers. At the same time, I recognized that these connections definitely benefited from that initial layer of anonymity. A response to an ad on Craigslist – much like a friend request on Facebook or networking via LinkedIn – can prime the pump for the depth of social interaction it might take months to achieve the old-fashioned way.

In many ways, Craigslist Joe humanizes humanity. No money is exchanged. No promises are made. There is no quid pro quo of any kind. Instead, the people Joe meets are all sharing what they can in exchange for the privilege of knowing someone and being known in return. Like Joe, I came away from this experience with so much more than I ever expected. What a lovely surprise.


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