- Post a comment at the end of this post describing a selfless act you recently witnessed (please don't give anyone's real name...we need to respect the right to privacy). --OR--
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- Post a comment at the end of this post naming and describing your favorite hiking trail (anywhere in the world).
Since I recently referred to folks who test one's patience (see number 4 of Ten Camino Truths), it now seems fitting to discuss the positive aspects of humanity. There truly are some beautiful people in this world. That simple fact may be difficult to remember when driving down a residential street with a tailgater filling your rearview mirror. The beauty within your neighbor might, at times, seem hopelessly buried under his thick layer of cluelessness as you lie awake in the wee hours of the morning hearing the eardrum-shattering music blaring from his living room window. Humility might appear to have vanished from our species as you listen to ranting radio personalities and surf television stations filled with ridiculous reality stars. Given the great sense of entitlement and me-me-me shouting in this country, it can be nearly impossible to remember that most folks are indeed good and kind at heart.
Seriously -- I do believe most people are good and kind. When people are not good and kind, it usually means they're reacting to stress they're unable to gracefully carry.
It's easy to peg people who are habitually selfless and giving. Mother Teresa springs to mind, as does Angelina Jolie, my Unitarian Universalist minister, and a local business owner who regularly donates a substantial portion of his profits to our region's food pantry. It's important to recognize those who do all they can to serve as many people as possible. It's equally important, however, to recognize the average Jane who holds the door open for strangers, the Joe who returns the surplus change to the mistaken cashier, and the teenager who parks in such a way as to never block anyone in. The philanthropists of this world are very much needed, and I am in no way trivializing their efforts. What's also needed, in arguably equal proportions, is everyday, old-fashioned, decency. And yes, I do believe this decency abounds.
On the Camino, decency was easy to find. Pilgrims who walk 20-35 kilometers every day don't have the energy to be ornery. More importantly, however, pilgrims who walk 20-35 kilometers every day take in every bit of positivity they can in order to get through their arduous journey. Generally speaking, pilgrims notice and take great pleasure in the good and simple things of life. A clean bunk, a cold drink, an empty chair, a cheery "Buen Camino"...such happy details fuel the peregrina's fire.
Back at home, however, one has to open one's eyes a little wider to find human decency. It's not that everyday folks aren't good and kind -- they are, repeatedly, right in front of you. The problem is not, in fact, everyday people, but our own, everyday vision. We're too busy fretting over our own situations and meeting our own needs to notice the little acts of kindness that happen each and every day, right under our noses. That stranger who just held the door for you -- he didn't have to do that. The lady who smiled and said hello -- why do you merit even an ounce of her attention? The woman who returned the wallet to the man who unknowingly dropped it -- she could have used the extra money to feed her kids. The man who donated a carload of usable goods to the thrift store -- he could have sold those items on eBay and pocketed the cash. Etc.
It took 540 miles of walking across Spain to make me fully appreciate the beauty in my fellow human beings. Before the Camino, I saw mostly the unpleasantness of the petty few. I'd spent too many years communing with emotionally unhealthy persons; my view of the world had been greatly shaped by toxic connections, and it took me a while to extricate myself and move forward on my own. The Camino provided me with more support for my personal healing process -- The Way opened my eyes to the inherent goodness of (most) my fellow human beings. Yes, selfishness exists. Sure, there are plenty of folks one should steer clear of. We don't live in Utopia and we can all point to local examples of dirty rotten scoundrels.
However -- look around you. Are most of your neighbors stealing from one another? Are you mugged every single day? At the post office, does everyone push and shove to get to the front of the line?
No, of course not. And I'll bet half the people who do indeed commit such offensive acts do so out of dire need or temporary selfishness. Again, yes, there are bona fide criminals out there. But look at how many more wonderful, good-hearted, and loving people there are. The good far, far outnumber the bad.
In other words, decency abounds. Human beings are beautiful -- look for the positives. Start making a mental list of all the simple acts of kindness taking place around you each and every day.
Notice, and be grateful.
You're right. It can be easy to fail to notice all the everyday goodness around us. The jerks are so much louder in their screams for attention, it seems.
I think one of my favorite hikes was going down into Bryce Canyon in Utah. It was an easy path to follow (except that it was very hot and I was four months pregnant at the time), and around every corner there was a new, breathtaking view.
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