where i dont hitchhike - by toby

Kindness as an Act of Radical Subversion – By ‘Toby Israel’

“I haven’t told anyone this yet—not even my business partner,” said Jack.

Two pairs of bluebell eyes stared at me gravely—Jack’s, and his infant son’s. Our Jeep sat in Cape Town traffic at the edge of the City Bowl.

Well, their Jeep, to be precise, since I was just the friendly neighborhood hitchhiker.

Jack’s secret? I’m not going to tell, of course, but it had to do with life choices and changes and quitting one job for another.

Traffic began to flow, and the lush greenery of Constantia Nek blurred outside, then transitioned to cityscape as we entered Cape Town proper. Jack is hardly the first stranger to tell me his life story—nor, I suspect, will he be the last.

When a hitchhiker enters a car, we enter into a tacit agreement with our driver. We are storytellers, listeners and, most of all, amiable company. We may not offer gas money, but the goods we trade in—words—are far more valuable.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Jack mused as we neared my destination (Jack would continue to the airport to pick up his wife),

“it’s like you’re my unofficial shrink.”

Yes, we’re that, too.

As I found my way around during my first weeks in Cape Town I often walked or hitchhiked to get from point A to B. (I’ve since moved into the city, and do less of both.)

When I walk, I make a point of meeting the gaze of each person I pass (their responses are alternately inquisitive, friendly and mildly hostile), smiling and saying, “hello.”

When I hitchhike, I introduce myself and make conversation. Those with whom I temporarily share that journey meet my gaze, smile and respond in kind.

In the past couple months, I have met a fellow Bostonian, a Singaporean family, a young surfer and an aging contractor—just to mention a few. Each one unique. Each one kind enough to stop for me. Hitchhikers are rare these days, though my local friends tell me they were once common.

What does all this have to do with subversion?

I will explain.

In a world that expects the worst, I believe offering the best of ourselves is a fundamental act of radical subversion.

In a society that sees mal-intent, hate, danger and selfishness everywhere—with or without due cause—what is more rebellious than goodwill, love and selfless support of our fellow human beings?

I enjoy all manner of privilege and bias in my experience of kindness—as some will be quick to point out. A young white woman? Oh, yes, I enjoy more than my share of privilege.

This fact is somewhat irrelevant, in the context of this discussion, however (although I will freely accede to its verity). For while none of us controls what the world gives to us—hate, or love; malcontent, or goodwill—each of us decides what we offer in return.

Rebellion, sometimes, is a broad smile.

Subversion, maybe, is the wide open arms of anyone who chooses love and trust in this crazy world.

And in that case, what is more radically subversive than acts of kindness? What is more rebellious than accepting that kindness—with an optimistic smile?

You may choose your own acts of subversion, make your own revolutions, but this—kindness, trust and love—is the revolution I want to be a part of.

Author Bio:
Toby Israel is an incorrigible vagabond. She travels in search of dragons, searches and cross-cultural understanding. Avid dancer, yogi, cook and lover of words, she is inspired by movement and poetry, good food and new things. She studied Anthropology at Middlebury College and now has the privilege of working as an editor at elephant journal. She also continues to find her way in the world as a 21st century nomad, and you can share her journey at her travel blog, Next Stop World, and on Twitter and Facebook!

Read More at TobyInTheWorld.



  1. When so many voices in the world counsel greed, fear, even cruelty in the names of identities, causes and such, this is surely true. To offer kindness and to have the courage to accept it at face value really are acts of subversion and rebellion. Thanks, Toby. reblogging

    Liked by 1 person

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