This I Believe

Allen - Los Angeles, California
Entered on September 11, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in the innate goodness of people…

Let me back up-

recently i just entered the drab perennially overcast condition of a security line at a small SoCal airport- a small man dressed in causal business khakis computer bag in hand curled in line beside me. We both paused for a second before we each began our first anxious moves in the security line shakedown- patting pockets for keys removing belts shoes sliding computers out of bags etc. when all of a sudden- the khaki one straightens himself saying,”nice try” and cuts in front of me…I- flying into the end- to manage death throes- of a failed relationship- was the cartoon image of a pressure cooker of stress- complete with jumping stream discharging pot- I had what can only be called

the beginnings of a proto-tourrette’s episode but stopped myself in mid-stream and said, with as much spin as four words would support,”please go right ahead”- the rest of the dance through security took on the jagged lines of a

merce cunningham(modern dance) performance as the entire line “code orange” alerted by the aggressive state of affairs between the two not so quietly smoldering men…Thankfully- we managed to get through without further incident.

A few minutes later I heard my name called to receive my stand-by seat assignment and as I turned away from the ticketing kiosk- boarding pass in hand- there stood the khaki clad compact figure waiting for me with a perfect and focused intensity -I stopped- he paused- then thrust his hand out – looking into my eyes he said “I’m sorry , I apologize for my attitude, I was wrong.”… I was simply- stunned. I stammered something and he shook my hand and moved off. What impressed me about this man was that- truth be told neither of us new who was first in line – we were both so preoccupied with our personal pressures and darkness’. What impressed was not the apology but what i can only call a gesture of kindness that the apology represented. I scanned back through my recent history and without too much trouble I was able to string together so many of these acts/gestures in my life that it became its own stunning narrative of kindness- a moby dick of generosities. I thought about it- and categorized them accordingly-

There are the dependable generosities of family,

the forthright giving of teachers

and the seemingly random love given by friends.

Of course there are those strange kindnesses…like ones that happen in the middle of the night, at a grocery store, when your trying to float a check to buy yourself some food (to get you through til..)a very long line having formed behind you when the cashier tells you- “no checks ” a hot flash of humility- and out of nowhere a twenty dollar bill appears on the counter,” i don’t know why i did that”, says the woman behind you who just paid for your groceries.

or the people who stop you with a bemused look when you are obviously hopelessly lost and offer direction…

and the hardest/ dearest of all – those people who’ve practiced the grace of forgiveness when you’ve made it impossible for them to do so. Each of us has our own version of this epic narrative within us-

Many have attempted to explain these kindnesses or generosities away as something retrograde in our behavior-

especially so since our world is such a dangerous and difficult place to live.

The hard core elements among us as- would probably mock such sentiments and the offering of help and receiving it- as being an act of weakness, This type of fear and loathing complementing the more technically advanced (and fashionable)antipathy that employs (selfish) genetics* as a way of explaining generosity and kindness away ( there are, of course, those who would simply yell- Pollyanna!). Perhaps … but the ideas buttressing the myth of the self- made and deterministic genetics at al. ignore what make the parallel truths of what I call the “lived” environment- the immediate environment created by our own and others behaviors– so important to consider. What is fascinating and intriguing about our existence- is that our we live on a moment by moment plane…every single moment we are choosing – to scratch- to lie- to turn right or left… to offer your hand or not…and every choice by default is an act of self- definition ( if you believe we are the sum of all our sheherazades’/ stories) which makes the much played out improvisation of being human– a narrative that includes a never ending tale of kindnesses and generosities – a palatable one.

I believe as we review our histories and take note of our connection to others – we’ll be able to re-construct

the story of what is kind what is good in each of us- and while it might not be as sexy as embracing ones’ anger or offering sympathy to the devil- I believe the history of these connections clearly describes a quality that is innate in us and as clear to see as an open hand.

* reference is to Richard Dawkins book the Selfish Gene