Citizenship, a lost bag and an act of kindness: a good news story

Thursday 15th August 2013

It’s never been the stuff of this blog to go ‘personal’ but I must relate this story of human kindness, honesty and optimism. Just in case you’ve put down the newspaper or turned away from the rolling news with its tales of dishonesty, dishonour and the rest – a world where nobody can be trusted, everybody has their snout in the trough and integrity is forever the victim of greed (be it the banker, the politician, the tax evader or the benefits cheat).

Today we got back from our holiday – a lovely week in Madeira, in which we’d experienced nothing but friendliness from everybody we met. It was a lovely journey back even if we were met by a rainy Monday afternoon – our bags came straight off the belt (always a sign that things are going well).  We grabbed them and the connecting bus to London Luton Airport’s APCOA mid-term car park. We were home in an hour and all seemed well until we realised, an hour later, that our gadget bag (laptop, iPad, kindle, camera, the boys’ 3DS consoles and their games – you get the picture) was missing. I never thought that I knew so many expletives or that I could utter them so quickly: £3,000 or more of kit and a whole lot more personal and professional history, up in smoke.  I’d left the bag behind – either on the connecting bus, at the bus stop or by the car.

Well, the world is not as dark as the papers and the TV tell us; somebody spotted the bag – a lovely woman, who left a message that I only picked up after I’d started heading back to the airport. She had checked the contents, realised their value and found my mobile number on a Breslin business card. She handed the bag in to the APCOA team, who also left a message, one that I only picked up when I arrived back at the airport.

People at airports are in a hurry, rushing to catch a flight or to get home – we were hurrying to get home, but also, and critically, to get into the car and out of the rain. I don’t know whether she was intent on catching a flight or getting home or, like us, just out of the rain but the heroine in this story didn’t rush – or at least stopped rushing – to check the contents of our bag, to find our contact details, to make the phone call and to walk the length of the car park – and airport car parks are long – to hand our bag in; an act of kindness, generosity, honesty – everything that we are told day-in and day-out has vanished from our society; it hasn’t and the lovely man in the car park office told me that similar expensive kit and personal valuables are handed in every day.

Some readers of this blog will know that I spent nine years leading a wonderful charity called the Citizenship Foundation; the core belief that drove – and sill drives – that great organisation is that the prosperity of society depends not simply on GDP but on the active committed, effective engagement of individuals as citizens.  By this way of thinking, society needs people who are, to draw on the title of the Foundation’s primary school programme – “go-givers” not just “go-getters”.  The woman who handed in our bag is a go-giver – she may be a go-getter too and there’s no harm in that but I have no way of knowing.  But I do know that she took 30 or perhaps 45 minutes out of her airport rush for somebody, a family, she didn’t know.  And, she is not alone; as other forgetful users of Luton’s airport car parks can gratefully testify.

Perhaps its not just about building the ‘big’ or ‘good’ society but realising, in spite of the headlines, that there is much to reaffirm about the society we already have, albeit that we can’t and shouldn’t duck the responsibility of working together to ‘fix’ the bits that are not working. I suspect far more people would have given the bag in than made off with it, as the popular narrative might have us believe.

I’m relieved that citizenship is alive and thriving, and that kindness, generosity, integrity, trust and honesty are as well;  I’m also relieved to have that laptop, my wife’s i-pad and the boys’ 3DS consoles. Phew, you bet I am!

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Lessons From Lockdown
For too long, changes to the education system have been driven by political considerations, short -term difficulties and even, at times, nostalgia. Lessons From Lockdown sets out why this piecemeal approach to reform needs stop and provides an invaluable contribution to the debate that now must take place.
Rosemary Bennet
Former Education Editor, The Times