Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Help Connection

There is this phenomenon I have been contemplating as of late. It has the power to bring people together. It sees a mosaic of colours but does not exclude any from its undiscriminating eye. Its impact is immense and timeless, as a river carving out a canyon. While fascinating, it is so staggeringly simple yet overlooked and underutilized.

I am talking about helping others. And it's a phenomenon because, puzzlingly, it doesn't happen enough.
Standing at the side of the road, with my thumb out, and holding a sign with city name, resting on my notebook. 
Earlier today, while hitchhiking from Sofia to Plovdiv, standing on the side of the road, staring into passing cars, hungrily at the empty seats, new thoughts dawned on me, really came to the forefront of my mind.

I used to think hitchhikers were crazy. These days I am the one with my thumb out, watching the cars pass by, thinking motorists were the crazy ones, and what a waste it is for all these empty seats to pass me by, their destinies unfulfilled, their existence obsolete. Don't get me wrong, I haven't waited more than an hour before getting picked up in my 4 or 5 hitchhiking experiences now but, provided I am waiting at the correct spot, shouldn't I not have to wait more than 5 minutes? How hard is it to help a guy out?

Then I thought of the people who had picked me up in their car. Sometimes few words were exchanged (primarily due to language barriers), other times many. Sometimes money was given, other times contact information. What was guaranteed was a smile and a handshake. A spontaneous combustion of happiness! I call this the help connection, human connection through helping.

It's a simple concept, a happiness recipe that requires a few ingredients, mainly vulnerability and trust. Today I could have paid just 6 euro to take a train from Sofia to Plovdiv, but I chose to make myself vulnerable by waiting on the side of a road, putting my trust in the hands of people speeding in and past my periphery. Add some time, next thing you know I got picked up and, voila, instant happiness for both myself and driver! All it's missing is that out-of-the-oven freshly baked smell.
A wonderful meal with Couchsurfers - New Year's Eve in Sibiu, Romania 
Hitchhiking is like the road version of Couchsurfing, which also thrives on the concept of the help connection. On CS I constantly make myself vulnerable by asking for a couch to sleep on. I put my trust in people I have never met. But when we finally do meet, instantly the walls of mistrust are torn down, and it is like making an instant friend. This is as good as happiness in a bottle. And the best part is it's free!

Phenomenons like hitchhiking and Couchsurfing prove to me that the best things in life are free. When you pay more while travelling you get modern comforts and contentedness. But the net happiness doesn't change. When you pay less you sacrifice comfort but rely on others for help, which results in a net gain in happiness. The math works.

As a happy passenger on the drive from Sofia to Plovdiv, while admiring the beautiful countryside of Bulgaria, I resolved to be more helpful to everyone, friend or stranger, in the future.

I also thought the word "stranger" needs to be revised. The word has negative connotations in a world where nobody makes themselves vulnerable nor trusts eachother. But you can make a change!
Near a remote village, I taught this old man how to use my camera! 
So when's the last time you made yourself vulnerable to others? Put your trust in someone you just met? Helped someone in need? My challenge to you is to actively help someone today unconditionally. And feel the spontaneous combustion of happiness inside you bursting into a big smile on your face, spreading from person to person in the vicinity.

I hope reading this helped you to realize the power of vulnerability, trusting and helping others. As the old saying goes "treat others as you want to be treated."
My morning view in Magura, remote village in Romania
Romania pictures, in two parts:


  1. I grew up in a hitchhiking country, where my dad stopped for a police officer once, swearing under his moustache that he will get a fine, and to his great surprise the officer hopped in cheerfully on the back seat.

    But i think the math works differently. It brings greater joy to hi5 your mate after one and a half hours of standing on the side of the road, instead of taking a 3 euro bus ride for 10km (and spend that money on a horchata:). Although catching a bus in time might be a challenge for some, taking one will never feel rewarding.
    Your driver might be the most awesome person you've met and tear your world apart in 2 hours, or he might be someone you don't exchange a single word with, but either way, when saying goodbye, you don't only feel happy because of help and trust, you feel like you've achieved something.

    And as for vulnerability... I agree, with the addition, that for women this isn't always a great mental accomplishment, nor a good/safe idea many times. Whenever i see a lone (male) hitchhiker, i always think to myself, how they don't have the slightest idea how lucky they are, that only very few people would want to rape them. :))

  2. I do agree that if you don't have to wait to get a hitch, it kind of ruins the magic, because it takes away the vulnerability factor.

    I also neglected to advise for women to never hitchhike alone. I am aware though. In fact, the girl who I first hitchhiked with had a girl friend involved in a nearly disastrous experience while hitchhiking alone, soon after we started.

    Of course there is a fine line and subtle rules for putting yourself in vulnerable situations. I just like to take a partisan stance to attempt to sway my readers, generally overly invulnerable, towards the middle ground.

    Thanks for replying, Hanga!