Charles Handy gets helped across the road
I woke up this morning to a brilliant sunshiney day and remembered Robert Browning’s lines, “Oh, to be in England, now that May is there”. Yes, I know he said ‘April’, but I thought I’d put May just to keep you on your toes. It really was lovely and I thought I’d be brave and go downtown. Where I live, that means going down to Putney High Street. Not the most vibrant centre in the world, but very full of traffic, as always, and not many people.
However, I needed to go across the road to the bank.
I am still a bit wobbly on my feet after my stroke last year. So I turned to a man beside me, a total stranger. I plucked up courage and I said, “would you mind helping me across the street?” He said, “sure mate,” with a smile. He gave me his arm and we stumbled across.
We hadn’t been introduced but we didn’t need to be. By the time we got to the other side I knew his name, his age, where he lived, his medical history and how he earned his living. He knew the same about me. Though when I said I was an author and wrote about the future, he said, “oh, I won’t be doing with that. I think the present is quite bad enough.” Anyway, we were bosom friends by the time we got to the bank. So we said goodbye, and I thought to myself as I watched the statistics that evening of Covid deaths and so on, it isn’t all bad.
It may be the sunshine but I feel there is a new mood descending, at least on Putney. A mood I can only describe as empathy, a genuine feeling that the world is full of kindness, that people are full of sympathy and ready to help, a world of helpfulness and hope. Where strangers are not rivals or enemies but potential helpers.
He sent me home with a real hope in my spirit thinking well now, that’s a title for my next book – The Age of Empathy. Unfortunately it had already been written. But in this new mood of empathy, I can heartily recommend it. Its full title is The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society and it is by Frans de Waal.
It seems there is altruism embedded in all of us, we only need to make it fashionable to let it out. But it would be ironic if in the end coronavirus was remembered not only for the dear ones we lost but also for the awakening of a new age of empathy in this island, a mood of mutual understanding and help, of helpfulness and hope. That would be a nice ending to what has been rather a tragic period.
Charles Handy’s books on management have sold over a million copies and have changed the way we view business and society. His latest book, 21 Letters, is now available in paperback and on audiobook. Read more here. Charles suffered a stroke in 2019 following the death of his wife in a car crash in 2018. This piece was dictated to his carer.