Make the ef­fort to find good­ness amid the bleak

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent ar­ti­cle in this news­pa­per, peo­ple are leav­ing be­hind large amounts of trash at Bull Creek Park. On the flip side, ac­cord­ing to Good­will’s web­site, kind­hearted souls have do­nated 1.14 bil­lion pounds of us­able items (items that might oth­er­wise have ended up in the land­fill) to Good­will since the be­gin­ning of this year.

These facts demon­strate that hu­man be­ings are A) ru­in­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, or B) be­ing great stew­ards of our planet. So which is it? Both. Our species is uniquely equipped to be both mur­der­ers and life­savers, thieves and self­less givers, bar­bar­ians and no­ble­men.

We know this, but it bears re­peat­ing given the ease with which we fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the neg­a­tive. How of­ten do we com­plain about the one id­iot who cut us off in traf­fic rather than praise the two nice driv­ers who al­lowed us to pass? As for the news, re­ports of crime far out­num­ber those about peo­ple who kept a prom­ise, helped a stranger or treated some­one with dis­abil­i­ties nei­ther con­de­scend­ingly nor rudely, but equally.

Lit­tle acts of kind­ness, vol­un­teer­ing and phi­lan­thropy demon­strate the stead­fast good­ness of peo­ple in our coun­try and make it eas­ier to trust oth­ers. That trust is bol­stered by know­ing that those who mis­be­have risk some form of cen­sure, be it prison time for se­ri­ous crimes or so­cial op­pro­brium for vul­gar be­hav­ior.

This news­pa­per per­formed that ser­vice (cen­sure) by draw­ing at­ten­tion to the lit­ter at Bull Creek Park and la­bel­ing the prob­lem ac­cu­rately (“bad be­hav­ior”). So, too, did the peo­ple who con­tacted “States­man Watch” to re­port the prob­lem. The so­lu­tions prompted by the story — ad­di­tional vig­i­lance by the Austin Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment as well as an in­creased po­lice pres­ence — should per­suade the lit­ter­ers to clean up their garbage.

Pub­li­ciz­ing bad be­hav­ior can al­low us to find reme­dies and give us the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to avoid be­ing a vic­tim. (Gee, an­other rob­bery at that shop­ping cen­ter; I’ll avoid go­ing there alone at night.)

In other words, we can be equipped to trust but ver­ify. Thus, we live with nei­ther fear that ev­ery­one is out to do us harm nor the vul­ner­a­bil­ity that comes from tak­ing no pre­cau­tions what­so­ever.

Though the daily news is enough to give us a healthy sense of the neg­a­tive, bal­anc­ing that with a healthy un­der­stand­ing of how ram­pant good­ness is re­quires more ef­fort. We have to look for it con­sciously, and when we wit­ness it, pro­claim it on Twit­ter, Face­book and, as Nancy Mar­quez did ear­lier this week (thank­ing the un­known per­son who re­turned her hus­band’s wal­let), in a Let­ter to the Edi­tor.

We can ex­plore apps and nu­mer­ous web­sites that fo­cus on kind­ness. One iPhone app sug­gests a new good deed for each day. Need­ en­cour­ages peo­ple to put a dol­lar and a let­ter in an en­ve­lope and give it to a stranger. The let­ter says to keep the money if the re­cip­i­ent needs it and, if not, to add an ad­di­tional dol­lar (or more) and pass it along to some­one else.

If enough peo­ple note and con­trib­ute to the wide­spread good­ness afoot in our coun­try, we can set the bar higher and en­gen­der an ev­ery­one-is-do­ing-it men­tal­ity. Af­ter all, we’d all rather live in a world where peo­ple throw away their trash and strangers re­turn lost wal­lets.

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