Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Nature of Us

There are some opinions that I hold that are indisputably true in my mind: Ketchup does not belong on hot dogs. Ross and Rachel should not have ended up together. Mosquitoes and wasps should all die fiery deaths. Betty White simply must host another SNL Mother's Day episode. And Anne Frank and I have at least one major thought in common; in her eloquent words, "...I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

I realize that I probably stand in the minority with this viewpoint, particularly among many Christian friends who believe that people are inherently wicked and sinful. Through my years on this planet though, I just can't help but come to a different conclusion: evil does exist in this world, but by and large the vast majority of people are inherently good. One might argue that the recent tragedy in Boston is a direct contradiction to this statement, but I see the tragedy in Boston as a confirmation of my belief actually. Let me expound.

Have you ever read the book Lord of the Flies? Classic though it may be, I hope for your sake that you have spared yourself because it is such a depressing read. In the book, William Golding creates a situation in which several boys are stranded on an island and left to fend for themselves. What follows is an increasingly awful disaster in which a sort of dictator takes hold of the group, and what psychologists term groupthink takes over, resulting in the bullying and death of a child and the utter unraveling of order and structure. The argument is what many people think would happen to a group of people left to their own devices, with no established government to keep them in check: they would go flippin' hog wild and kill each other and become monsters. But let's think about this for a minute, really. If the island in this setting is a microcosm, then let's just consider this whole planet a macrocosm of the same sort of project. Here we all are, all 6.9 billion of us, floating around on this planet called Earth in our various little places with our unique cultures and languages and customs. The planet really is an island in the middle of nowhere, and we are the boys who are stuck on it. What can be said of us? Are we savages, running around and killing people? Well I'm not! Are you? Of course not! No one that I know is. In fact, nearly all people that I know, and I think I have encountered thousands of them, are people that hold doors for struggling people, that wave hello to their neighbors, that smile when a loved one walks in the room, and that feel sadness and a sense of wanting to help when they see a tragedy occur like the one on Monday. People who are actually IN the situation like the one on Monday typically react like heroes, pinching off a stranger's artery like the cowboy pictured below to save a life they have never met, stepping in as emergency personnel to help however they can, donating blood and time and money, and sharing positive thoughts and prayers. THESE are the people that I see in this world. Yes, one deranged individual, or perhaps a small group of them, orchestrated an event that demonstrated the presence of evil...but the response of love from this entire country, from ground zero all the way to California, has far surpassed the evil and has shown the true nature of people in general: that is, they are good, and they want to help other people. For every bomber out there, there are 100,000 working against him.

So, returning to William Golding's story: we are a floating island of little boys. As a group of people  sharing this planet, what have we turned this place into?  When I look around me, I don't see a world of utter chaos, with evil, self-serving individuals being the norm. I'm not blind; of course I see violence, rapes, mistreatment of people and animals, dictatorships that threaten basic freedoms. Apart from some isolated places and people in turmoil, I by and large see humanity working together. We have established ourselves into civilized societies out of some inner need for structure and peace. I just can't believe that we are destined to become savages if left to our own devices because we have been put to the test, and so far we haven't! Look around you, and you'll find gentle vet techs, compassionate chemo nurses, hard-working plumbers, patient schoolteachers, weather-beaten crossing guards, and enthusiastic volunteers. You'll see librarians smiling at children, motorists pulling over for funeral processions, and subway operators re-opening doors for tardy arrivals. You'll see strangers chatting for hours on airplanes, people asking if you're okay when you trip, neighbors pulling stray trash cans back up to houses, kind Home Depot employees passing out suckers to children, and people returning lost wallets and purses to store clerks. These are not forced actions; they are chosen ones. This world is not filled with bad people. We were born and created with the breath of goodness.

I have seen floating around my Facebook newsfeed this image of Mister Rogers with his quote beneath it. I know that the helpers are always there because I grew up with one of them. As the daughter of an emergency rescue worker at the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, I can recount the horror done to my city and my terror knowing that my dad was in that collapsing building, doing all he could to save others. I also saw an outpouring from my city that I never imagined possible, and felt the love just as strongly as I felt the grief. Each year, BJ and I run in the Memorial Marathon Relay in honor of our city, those who lost their lives, and those who stepped forward and gave back. If your perception of the world is of evil and irreparable horror, I challenge you to reconsider your position, if only for a moment. The news will portray the world in this manner because it focuses on the violent and the scary; the stories about the goodness and the helpers often only get airtime when the anchors have run out of the gory narrations, because goodness and helpers are the norm, not the aberration. As I raise my children, I will tell them to focus on the helpers; they will run the children's version of the marathon with us, and they will see the outpouring of love that comes from Oklahomans so many years after the fact. I will help them to focus on the good in this world and celebrate love, so that they may become helpers themselves when they are boys and men.

God bless us all, and God bless Boston.


  1. Preach it, sista! Only if major media had the gall to adopt a similar perspective! One minor theological difference ;) ... but otherwise you've adeptly articulated exactly what I've been wrestling with as of late ... 'common grace' ... if you will. Really looking forward to your visit to MN!

    1. Billy, hide behind your initials if you want, but I know who you are. =) Thanks for commenting. We are extremely excited to see you guys too! Hugs.

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