Human nature

2013-11-23 18:56

People talk a lot about human nature, often fairly cynically. I do it too. People say things like “in theory, only people who actually need the aid are supposed to apply for it, but human nature being what it is, lots of people apply fraudulently”. And, barring some dispute over what constitutes “lots” of people, that kind of thing is true. It really is the case that people steal, that people commit violent crimes. It is true that people try to get ahead without regard for others, and even at other people’s expense. It is the truth, and nothing but the truth… But it is not the whole truth.

This guy I know recently wrote a blog post entitled, and I quote, Amazingly good things wow oh my god. Theo’s a nice guy. He’s not rich or famous, he’s just some guy. Going around being a person, meeting other people, and doing people things.

So here’s a little snippet of his story from that particular day (edited to remove a last name):

So my friends come out of the cafe with some other peeps and they all get into conversing so I go inside to sit with Dan and Alex, who were reading and talking and playing chess. A few minutes go by as I watch Dan dance all over Alex’s face and checkmate him when a dude walks in. His eyes are bloodshot and tired, he’s wearing some raggedy clothes, and he walks up and asks us “hey, man, you got a couple bucks you can spare so I can get something to drink or eat?” I of course proceed to hand him what cash and change I have in my pockets, an impressive 2 dollars and something, and he thanks me and goes up to the counter, but the stuff is still too expensive for him and he starts walking away dejectedly when I’m like “hey, man, I can get you something. Want a coffee and a bagel? It’s cheap, and I got it covered.” He thanks me and takes the coffee but passes on the bagel, so I grab it and a while later I’m talking to him and the dude’s not wearing socks and it’s been raining and it’s almost freezing so I ask him if he wants my socks, but he doesn’t take them and I ask him if I can buy him some and he just nods his head and says something to the effect of “I don’t know if they’d have them, but can we go down to the 7-11 and check? They have those sweaters and hats maybe they’ll have socks, too.” I don’t go to 7-11s very often, so it was worth a shot. We start walking, and he tells me his name is Bruce, and starts telling me his life story, how he got homeless, how his parents were dead and he walked 10 miles from where he had been staying at a motel that he’s been making his home for 50 bucks a week or something (I don’t remember because I’m a terrible person) that had finally kicked him out because he couldn’t find and another job, to downtown Grand Rapids where he could have a chance to panhandle some money to get a bus ticket to Muskegon.

Like I said, Theo’s just this guy. He’s not some saint who’s spent years in a monastic order training for compassion. He’s just some ordinary guy, but since he noticed that the guy he was talking to had no socks, and it was cold, he tried to help. It’s sort of surprising, because mostly people don’t do that. But I assert that this isn’t because human nature isn’t like that; I think it’s because our culture spends so much time teaching people not to do things like that. People are told all about how it’s irrational, and it won’t work, and it won’t make a difference anyway, and so on. They’re told to watch out for themselves. And the people advocating this just sort of ignore the question of what to do about the guy with no socks.

The story continues. Bruce eventually gets a ride to Muskegon, which is a nice thing if you happen to want to go there. Theo is happy because he got to make a difference. And I get a chance to ramble on about how human nature is not always such a bad thing, perhaps.

Peter Seebach

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