This I Believe

William John - Lahaina, Hawaii
Entered on April 25, 2007

I sincerely believe that people at their core are kind, generous, and above all benevolent. I further believe that nowhere is this more evident than in time of extreme crisis.

On May 18, 1980, a mighty mountain erupted and exploded across the Pacific Northwest–Mount Saint Helens. In Eastern Washington with fine gray ash descending and blocking out the sunlight, I along with thousands of travelers found myself stranded. We had no shelter, no food, no water and no supplies–even the air was difficult to breathe.

I survived through the compassion and bigheartedness of those who resided in and around Ritzville, Washington. Elderly couples opened their homes; preachers opened their churches; the gymnasium was unlocked to provide shelter. I slept upon a hard wooden pew, and was thrilled to have a safe place to lay my head. Families searched pantries, root cellars, freezers and refrigerators to feed us. The meat may have been a touch freezer-burnt and there may have been an over-abundance of home-canned beets, but I was grateful for every delicious and nourishing morsel. They provided for us for four shock-filled days. They did not stop to ask how they would get through this time of turmoil. They disregarded their own future needs to aid my fellow travelers and myself. It was not in their best interests to do so, yet they did.

Why did they? Why would people give up their necessities to strangers, necessities that they might need for themselves in the days and weeks ahead?

Around seven AM on October 15, 2007, the ground shook for what seemed like ten minutes; the power went out island-wide here on Maui. A major earthquake off the Island of Hawaii was to blame. It became apparent the power would not return quickly. In the apartment complex where I live two of the neighbors–Lavina and Eddie—without hesitation lit up their propane stoves, started brewing coffee and tea and of course, making white rice.

The entire neighborhood gathered to cook breakfast, listen to portable radios that received only static, and speculate on what had happened and what to do. People who barely knew one another to nod hello were offering to share their provisions, their batteries, and their necessities. Computers, televisions and cell phones were useless. Despite the confusion and without resorting to mayhem we pulled together to make the best of the unusual circumstances. We shared with one another.

Why did we do this? Why did we sacrifice our supplies for others, supplies that might prove necessary for our own survival later?

I have seen self-interest and self-absorption vanish in times of crisis. I believe deep inside each of us resides superior qualities of self-sacrifice, charity, and goodwill toward our fellows. I think there is one answer to those “Why” questions. You see, I believe people are innately good.