Make the effort to find goodness amid the bleak
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. NeeditKeepit.org 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.