Celebrating Kindness on the Subway

st paul photo

Photo: B. Alter

The artist Michael Landy is out to improve the civility on subways. For the past few months he has been encouraging commuters to commit "Acts of Kindness" by submitting short stories of kindness that they have seen or experienced on the Central line of the London subway system.

Some of the resulting stories and comments have now been posted on the walls of the subway platforms and they are quite touching. Kind of renews one's faith in human nature.

first day photo

Photo: B. Alter

Landy says he's interested in the exchanges between strangers:

"It's a gesture of trust between two people. There's a risk in that. They may just ignore you or take it the wrong way. I'm fascinated by when you see people prepared to give up something for somebody they don't know. I think sometimes it's easier to remember those times when people have been unkind. But once you start to notice kindness you see it happening more and more."

The stories are taped up on the walls of the subway at three stations on the Central Line. They look a bit tacky--some are peeling off already. Not too many people seem to notice them in their rush to get to their destination.


Photo: B. Alter

Yet the stories are touching:

"I cried on the Victoria line, last Friday. Boy trouble. When I got off at Stockwell a girl of about 22 came running up to me to see if I was OK. She gave me a hug and looked right into my tear soaked eyes and said, 'Sometimes you just need a hug from a random stranger on the tube.' As she walked off in the opposite direction I realised she was right."


Photo: B. Alter

"I was trying to pass an elderly man in the train to get off. By coincidence we both kept stepping in the same direction. As we eventually got round each other he joked "you dance divinely". It made me laugh. It was a sweet thing to say."

There is something heartwarming about Landy's optimism and the spirit of generosity expressed in the little stories. As the collection on the walls grows, perhaps more people will be encouraged to add their own gentle act of kindness to a stranger on the London Underground.

More on Michael Landy
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Tate's Christmas Tree Bares All
Be Kind to Your Fellow Commuters