It feels as if the entire internet has been aflame with anger and pointing fingers and derision and blame recently. So I’ve got a few positive stories and a few thoughts about humanity I’d like to share, in the hopes that they will make things a bit less flammable.
Last week, I was hurrying through the lunch line in the college cafeteria. I had been running a bit behind all day, resulting in my needing to buy lunch rather than having made it that morning. I was looking forward to finally having a chance to sit and eat my yummy hot food and avoid the stress and the snow and the #struggle for a little while.
I reached the front of the line for the cashier and began to rummage for my wallet in my backpack. It took me approximately 30 seconds to realize, as my hand wandered deeper and deeper into the pocket in which I habitually keep my wallet, that it was not there.
“I don’t have my wallet,” I mumbled, almost in shock. After a momentary panic, I realized, first with relief, and then with a different, hungrier panic, that my wallet was in the glovebox of the car, where I’d put it after a trip to the bank the day before, not wanting to reach back to the back seat to put it back in my bag.
“I don’t have my wallet,” I repeated to the bored-looking cashier. “It’s in the car.”
“Oh. You can go get it—I can hold your food for up to twenty minutes,” she offered helpfully, but already I was shaking my head, numbly, unable to explain, frozen by the impatient glances of the people piling up in line behind me. My husband had driven us to school today. He had the keys. He was on the far side of campus from where we parked, in a class whose classroom number I didn’t know. It would take me twenty minutes to find him, get the keys, and get back to the centrally located cafeteria, let alone the car.
“It’s fine; I’ll get it.”
A girl with dark red dyed hair and confident posture behind me pushed forward, putting her food with mine, offering her credit card to the cashier and brushing off my murmurs of shock, protestation and gratitude. I thanked her again as she hurried off and she smiled and shrugged, and I was left to eat my food in a haze of thankful contemplation.
"It's Fine, I'll Get It."
I mean, yeah, it was only $7 and, yeah, she probably was in a hurry and wanted me and my line-holding dilemma out of her way so she could eat and get on with her life. But $7 is another meal for herself tomorrow. And rather than any other option for getting me out of the way, like telling me to get out of the line, or just waiting silently until I did so, she decided to be kind.
Skip forward a couple days.
I was the sole inhabitant of the sole laundry mat in my small college town. A couple in their early thirties had come in for a few minutes just after I’d arrived twenty minutes earlier wearing pajamas and tired expressions and had thrown a couple of trash bags full of clothes into the heavy duty washing machines, but otherwise my laundry vigil had been one of solitude and the thumping noises of washers and dryers.
The door scraped open and slender young woman with bobbed brown hair and large, stressed eyes wobbled in, carrying a basket containing an enormous pile of comforters and blankets. After glancing up at her entrance, I paid her little mind as she put her basket on the counter and began checking out the machines.
After a few moments of dithering, she came over to ask me if the things in the oversized washing machine belonged to me. There were only a few minutes left on the timer. I indicated that I was not the owner, and that they had been gone for a while. She dithered a bit more, asked if there were any other laundry mats in town (there aren’t), asked if I thought the owners would mind if she took out their things if they didn’t return soon (probably not, but who knows?), then announced her decision to wait either for them to return or for enough time to pass to make taking out their clothes reasonable.
To my surprise, after making this decision, she went back outside to her car, abandoning her overstuffed basket of blankets on the table. A few moments later, she came back with two small blonde girls in tow and a wide-eyed baby boy on her hip. She perched herself on a chair near me with the boy and quietly gave the little girls instructions on how to insert quarters into the vending machine in the corner that dispenses small toys rather than candy. I went back to my own business.
Not long later, the girls were taking turns playing and bargaining noisily over their tiny toys (the sparkly ball was coveted, the orange plastic balloon, not so much). Mom, figuring out the change machine and rearranging the laundry, soon became frustrated with her single free hand and put down baby boy but quickly regretted her decision, realizing he refused to stand next to the table, choosing immediately instead to sit down and begin to crawl toward his sisters each time she attempted to set him on his feet. Mom picked him up again, tutting about the state of the floor, and eyed the washer, which had finished washing several minutes earlier, and which she was clearly itching to empty and refill with her own things.
I'm a Decently Normal Human Being...
Finally, exasperated, she asked the older of the two girls to come and hold her brother. Either too engrossed in their activities to notice, or enjoying their play too much to want to stop, neither girl so much as looked up.
“I can hold him… if you want?” I offered, uncertainly. I nannied triplets, and I know well the need for another set of hands. Nevertheless, though I’m a decently normal human being and not particularly threatening-looking, I was an almost complete stranger. I didn’t want to creep the poor woman out.
Either desperation or trust in my goodwill (or both) won out, and for the next five or so minutes, I had the privilege of holding the restless cherub, with his adorable tiny white and blue sock on one foot and tiny, cold pink toes on the other. As soon as she’d finished moving the wet clothes to a bin and her blankets to the washer, Mom happily retrieved her baby, whom I willingly relinquished then went back to my own business, a little more satisfied with life.
It wasn’t until later that day that I realized that, in a minor way, I had done as young Haley Joel Osment’s character suggested in a truly great movie—that is, I had ‘paid it forward.’ I allowed an act of kindness directed at me to make me more aware of how I could help someone else, then acted on the impulse to be kind, myself.
The "I Am 100% Right and They Are 100% Wrong" Mentality.
There has been a lot of media dedicated recently to the divisions in our country. Each side seems determined to vilify the other. Too many people have the “I am 100% right and they are 100% wrong” mentality. To try and prove it, they take whatever the weakest link in the opposition may be—the dumbest things done, the worst things said, flaws in personal appearance—and turn it into jokes, memes, and hold them up as representing the whole. Not only is behavior unfair (and creates several logical fallacies—Straw man, anyone? Ad hominem sound familiar?) but it does nothing to change the minds of the other side but only confirms to their side the stupidity and wrongness of the opposition, solidifying the divisions between the groups.
Now maybe, like Pay It Forward’s Trevor McKinney, I am a little too trusting in the goodness of people, and if so, so be it. But I believe that in reality, the majority of people really, truly good and decent human beings. Friends to their friends, neighborly neighbors, loving parents and children. We each act according to the knowledge and perspective we have to the best of our abilities.
We're All Trying to Do What We Think is Right.
Not to suggest we live in a morally relativist world where conflicting opinions are all correct because the people holding them believe they are, or where all actions are morally equal so long as the person doing them thinks they are right to act that way. Some things are good and some are not. There are bad people in this world who do incredibly evil things every day. There are fairly good people who do terrible things for the wrong reasons. There are terrible people who do good things for the wrong reasons. But I am certain they are the minority.
For the rest of us, we’re all trying to do what we think is right, trying to figure out what’s good and important and true. We’re still learning, and sometimes we mess up. Nobody is 100% right about everything all the time (in fact most of us aren’t 100% right about anything anytime), and I’m fairly certain that especially in politics, no political stance or opinion is completely perfect and correct. But we all have opinions, we all make choices, because we’re all trying to know and do what’s right—and, dang it, can we have a little compassion? Can we remember our fellow beings are human? To err is human. It’s a saying, it’s our nature, and it’s true. We err! All the time. Just because someone does or says something we don't agree with, makes a mistake, doesn’t mean we should strip their humanity and reduce them to a punchline (or worse, do so to their children!). We all mess up, and we'd all rather be respectfully corrected when we mess up than made out to be idiots, evil, mentally deficient, or have our appearances made the subject of criticism and crassness.
There Is Good in Each of Us—So Much Good.
We might disagree on many things, but there is so much that we fundamentally agree on. The person who opposes you on any given political topic might be the one who’ll willingly pay for your lunch when you forget your wallet, or who’ll seems decent enough that you’d let them hold your baby when you need an extra set of hands. The redhead didn’t ask my opinion on politics helping me. The laundry mat mom didn’t ask my religion before letting me help her.
There is good in each of us—so much good. I believe that. We have to rely on the good in others every time we walk out our doors, or society would fall apart. We all have reasons for believing what we believe, doing what we do, and whether our reasons are well thought out or the outcome of culture, community, or upbringing, we all do what we do with the intent to make the world (or just a life or two) better. So, for goodness sake, stop tearing each other and this nation apart, and try to see the human on the other side of the issue—and by doing so, act a bit more human yourself.
* pictures in this post (with the exception of the political memes, which were from various facebook friends' walls, and the Pay It Forward screen shot, which was provided by Google) were found on Pixabay.com.