Yesterday while driving home just before midnight I passed by a woman who was walking along the side of the highway. I saw that she wasn't carrying anything that would warrant walking (such as a gas can or a bag of groceries) so I circled back around, stopped, and asked if she needed to use a phone or wanted a ride. She said that she could use a ride to 72nd street, and my jaw dropped. 72nd was at least six miles away!
She hopped in the car and as we talked she said that she had been walking from Target on the north side of town -- four miles already! I asked how she ended up at Target without a ride home, and she revealed she was in a long-term relationship with a guy and they had been arguing a lot recently. They had it out at Target, he said something really awful to her, and she snapped and walked out.
Long commutes came up in the conversation, but when I mentioned where I live and work and she seemed to shrink a little in the seat. "It seems like you're driving a long distance out of your way," she said. While that was true, I replied that "helping you helps me be a better person." I have few opportunities to help people, so making sure that a stranger gets home safely -- as opposed to walking for miles and miles in dark clothing along an unlit two-lane highway frequented by drunken lake visitors with a 60 MPH speed limit after midnight -- is an important opportunity to fulfill a personal mandate: creating good in the world.
I've spent years on the internet and I've observed an enormous amount of unnecessary negativity and conflict. So, although ill-defined, I long ago decided that I would "deliberately create good in the world". "Pay it forward" isn't equivalent in my eyes because I don't view kindness as a currency (or at least, if it is then its velocity of circulation is vanishingly low and that economy would collapse very quickly). I also don't think that "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is equivalent, because it means that people are the only recipients of kindness. Again, my personal viewpoint is poorly defined, but maybe that's unconsciously so I can feel like recycling and picking up trash from my apartment parking lot makes me a good person, heh.
The point of writing this isn't to show off. I just hope to inspire you to deliberately do good things.
Oh, and the end of the story is that I drove her all the way home and used my odometer on the way back to check the total distance: including the distance down 72nd, I saved her almost eight miles of life-endangering walking. Nice!