There are many disadvantages to being visibly different from other people. One possibility is that you will be bullied. But another, equally unpleasant one is that someone will decide to target you for a random act of kindness.
Yes, there is a movement like that. It's been going on for a long time, since before I was born. And the idea behind it is that if we all practice unexpected small acts of kindness toward strangers, we will be living in a much better world. Practitioners of random acts of kindness are well meaning, but incredibly thoughtless. Because of that, if we overreact to their kindness, they are likely to go ballistic. So if it ever happens to you, the best thing you can do is set them straight very softly, so as not to set them off. There is nothing like a would-be good Samaritan to become enraged if you reject his random act of kindness, no matter how bad it makes you feel.
The first time I was subjected to a random act of kindness, I was seven years old and in a public swimming pool. I had just learned how to swim, and my movements were still very jerky. My father was in the pool with me, supervising from a distance, but not interfering with my progress. Suddenly a strange man that I had never seen before swooped in, carried me aloft and deposited me on the other side of the pool. That was really scary. And then when he explained that he thought I was drowning, it just got very embarrassing. My father thanked him for his help, and eventually we laughed about it. But it was still an unpleasant thing to have happened. I will never forget it.
Random acts of kindness are based on the idea that without knowing someone, his situation, his abilities and disabilities and the subtle context of his life, you can decide what would be best for him and just swoop in and do whatever you like to him, without his permission. It's really no different from kidnapping, except that you mean well. In the case where they refuse to take your money for a service or give you money that you have no way to refuse, that is a kind of assault that we don't even have a name for.
Take the example of a professor who returns to the US from abroad and finds himself at Yale on a snowy day dressed in sandals, because he has just come back from a place with a different climate. Let's say his clothes are wrinkled from the long flight, and his hair is disheveled. He walks into a Payless Shoe Source to get snow shoes, but the clerk there becomes convinced that this is his moment to shine in a random act of kindness. The clerk is a young African American man, very well groomed and dressed for success. He is also a church-goer, and he sees the professor who walks into his store as a needy person. "Why are you wearing sandals? Have you just had an operation?" he starts to ask. "No," the professor answers distractedly. Because nothing that the professor says or does makes sense to the clerk, he becomes convinced that this strangely dressed man is a homeless person -- possibly retarded. When he offers to give him the shoes for free, and the professor refuses, he starts to take offense, because he thinks maybe this white homeless man is prejudiced against blacks, and that's why he's refusing his generous random act of kindness. "I go to church," he starts to say. "I'm a good person!" It does not help that the professor tells him he earns a great more than he does and does not need his charity. The good Samaritan is now insulted!
Or how about the case of the elderly woman with white hair and very plain clothes who does not accept that the person behind her wants to pay for her groceries in an orchestrated act of kindness by a Church group during the Christmas holidays. She's not going to tell the stranger that she is well-off and set for life. She was brought up to be modest in her dress and to not brag about her wealth so as not to arouse envy. But how to deal with people who think they know who is in need based only on their outer appearance?
These are all true stories. In each case, the random act of kindness is like a slap in the face to someone who had no idea he looked so helpless and in need to other people. And what makes it worse is that we are not allowed to get angry, for fear of offending our would-be benefactor, because the benefactor belongs to a majority religion or a particular ethnic group.
I have been trying to warn my well-meaning friends who practice random acts of kindness that they may be hurting others in the process, but so far I don't think anyone understands what I am saying. They are so into charity and good works that they think this is all about "selfishness". But who exactly is the selfish one here? Is it the person refusing unwanted help or the benefactor who hopes to store up points to go to heaven by forcing himself on others?
The person you pity based on their appearance, clothes or behavior may indeed be missing your physical coordination, social skills or fashion sense, but they might have advantages that you don't even know about. They might be a mathematical genius or wealthy beyond your imagining. But since you won't bother to get to know them before bestowing your kindness on them, there is no way for you to find that out. You figure if they look weird, they need help. The random act of kindness is ultimately motivated by the same instincts as those of the bully: to level differences and to enforce uniformity. The only way to avoid other people's pity is to act and look exactly the way society says we should. Otherwise, you never know when someone might mistake you for his inferior and swoop down to help you unbidden.
All people need respect and friendship and love. But you can't help strangers by just throwing money at them or fishing them out of the water, because they have not mastered the breast stroke yet. Random kindness is not too different from random violence. It's rude and thoughtless and causes pain to others, because it just stresses the difference between and among people. Don't do it. Resist the urge. The kindest thing you can do for a stranger is to leave them alone, unless they ask for help.