On Friday of last week, I saw a picture posted on Reddit that warmed my heart. It was an image of one man sleeping on another man’s shoulder on the subway. The story that accompanied it was so small and beautiful that I just had to share it with the world.
I posted in on Charidy’s Facebook page:
And, unless you have been living under a rock or don’t have the internet (wait, how are you reading this?!) you know the rest of the story: the picture went crazy viral, and has since been featured in the Atlantic, New York Magazine, the Gothamist, Tablet, and much more.
Crazy, crazy stuff.
Because of my small hand in it exploding, I’ve been pretty obsessed about this image. Actually, all of us at Charidy have been.
I’ve watched the amount of people responding, saying how inspired they are by this small moment, how much it moved them, and been absolutely blown away.
I’ve also noticed some of the negative comments. People wondering why race or religion should matter (the original Reddit poster mentioned the race and religion of the two people). People saying that the sleeping person was probably on drugs (yeesh, who are these people?).
But the question that struck me the most was this one: Why on earth should this image be popular?
People have been genuinely wondering: how does a small act of kindness matter so much? Why should it be in the news or spread by so many people? What about all the people doing big things for the world?
And, you know, it’s a fair question. Why does the man, now identified as Isaac Thiel, deserve so much attention?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Because I’ve been posting lots of pictures of people doing random acts of kindness on the Charidy Facebook page. Why should these small acts matter?
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more obvious it has become to me.
First of all, what Isaac Thiel did really was impressive. He did something that may seem small, but really isn’t. He did something, honestly, many of us would be uncomfortable doing. He was even offered an opportunity to move, and he chose not to.
But there’s something even more important about this picture that I think most people are missing.
This isn’t (only) about Mr. Thiel. This is about us.
Why does that image resonate with so many people? Because almost all of us have been in some sort of similar circumstance. Besides the positive and negative comments, there have been thousands of comments of people saying how they were in almost the exact same situation. Some moved away, some stayed. The comment with the most likes on our Facebook page is a friend of mine, Ben Faulding, who shared a picture he took of a woman resting on his shoulder, which he took about a year ago.
This image matters for a few reasons, but it matters most of all for this reason: Thiel is a reminder that we all, constantly, have opportunities in our life to do good. Every second matters. Every second is a chance for us to do good.
This spread because while it can be hard for us to identify or connect with the big people doing big things, we can all identify and learn from Thiel. Thiel isn’t a hero in a cape flying through the air: he’s on the ground, walking among us. And reminding us that we can be heroes too.