Some time ago, I found myself taking one of those quizzes seen every day on Facebook. Most of the questions were True/False, and I was cruising through it, not analyzing any one question too much. But, one of the questions still hangs in my mind, and I sometimes find it inquiring of me, “Still say ‘True’ to this one?” It was: I believe people are generally good.
And yes, I still say “true.”
While there are many many bad things and people in the world, I really do think that most of us want to be good people. We want to be helpful and kind. Yes, there’s that voice that we sometimes hear and heed that says, “Well, what’s in it for me??” But overall, I believe that the desire to do good in the world trumps the desire to do evil.
My sister has a friend who is confined to a wheelchair. About a month ago, he fell out of it and was stranded on the street, bloodied and trying unsuccessfully to flag down some help, while several cars passed him by. Understandably, my sister was very upset when she heard what happened. She wasn’t there to help him, and was heartbroken when she found out that he struggled for quite a while before getting the help he so needed. I can’t even imagine what he must have been thinking, and how he must have been feeling. Even just hearing about it made my own heart ache and my stomach turn.
Why did so many people pass him by? Why do we sometimes turn away from those who need our help? Some reasons why we may choose not to be helpful or kind may be that we’re in too big a hurry. Or we don’t know how to help. Or we say, "Someone else will do it." Or we are afraid to help, or too shy. Whatever the reason we tell ourselves and those around us, it’s not good enough. As the hymn Have I Done Any Good? tells us, “there are chances for work all around just now, opportunities right in our way.” There are things busy people can do, things shy people can do, things anyone can do.
President Monson said that, “Every day of our lives we are given opportunities to show love and kindness to those around us.” The way we do good, doesn’t need to be some earth shattering, noticeable-to-everyone thing. President Monson suggests that there are many subtle things we can do to express love and kindness:
“…a smile, a wave, a kind comment, a compliment. Other expressions may be more subtle, such as showing interest in another’s activities, teaching a principle with kindness and patience, visiting one who is ill or homebound. These words and actions and many others can communicate love.
Dale Carnegie, a well-known American author and lecturer, believed that each person has within himself or herself the ‘power to increase the sum total of [the] world’s happiness … by giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged.’ Said he, ‘Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.’”
A few years ago I decided that if I was thinking something nice about someone, whether I knew the person or not, I would tell them. As a result, I’ve looked into many a bewildered face while telling them, “That color makes your eyes pop!” Or “Man, that dress makes your butt look great!” Yes, sometimes my compliments may be a little surprising (even borderline inappropriate), but invariably, people get a kick out of them and thank me, walking away with a smile. That’s something that doesn’t take time or money, but can brighten a person’s day.
We need each other. We’re here to help and love one another through this life AND the next. Kindness is contagious, and by reaching out to those around us, in whatever way we can, we inspire other people to be kind too. As Marianne Williamson put it:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Q: I believe people are generally good.
A: True. And how.