22 March 2006

Goodness

Reading responses to my last post about beggars made me think about the presence of goodness in human society. If you entirely took on board impressions of humanity from the media - you would think that our world was full of ugliness, selfishness and sheer unbridled badness. They create a picture of city streets filled with danger, crack dealers, rapists, muggers and vandals. Children are warned not to talk to strangers and to be on guard against this vile wickedness bubbling just under the surface of everyday reality.

And yet, when I stand back from it all, I realise that this picture of my fellow human beings is a long way from the truth. Tallullah, Friday and Alkelda have been kind to beggars and such quiet kindness is arguably the truer face of humanity. All of us can surely recall acts of human kindness - favours rendered, helping hands lent - goodness that was profferred without hope or expectation of personal reward. Being on the receiving end of human goodness makes all of us more liable to do good things for others. What goes around comes around and ... you're gonna reap just what you sow.
Between the ages of sixteen and twenty three I hitchhiked all over the place. Not many young people seem to hitchhike these days which is a shame and indicative of the culture of fear that abounds. I remember one particular lift with a salesman all the way from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye. We stopped at a roadside cafe and he bought me a slapup fried breakfast. I tried to offer him some money but he'd have none of it. Back then, I had lots of great rides from people who just wanted to help complete strangers like myself. They didn't want anything back in return.
Once, as a teenager, I was standing outside a fish and chip shop in Winchester, Hampshire. It was around eleven at night. My mate Lee and I were wondering where we'd sleep that night miles away from our Yorkshire homeland. A man popped out of the fish and chip shop and asked us if we needed a bed for the night. We went home with him. He was a junior doctor at the local hospital and he said he'd be going to work early in the morning - "Just make yourself some breakfast and push the keys through the letter box when you go," he said. And we never saw him again. We left a note on the kitchen table saying thanks.
I have numerous stories like these - tales of human kindness. And it may be unfashionable to say this but I genuinely think that most human beings are essentially good. The majority of us are not seeking to beat down the next guy in line. We want to help others, partly because helping is in itself a real buzz - it confirms that we are truly alive. It harks back to the days of rural living where communities had to be interdependent to survive. Just because they have made cities for us with apartments and concrete blocks to live in doesn't mean that we have lost the rather primitive urge to help others and to do good things.
In the western world there are so many charities that thrive on goodwill. When disaster strikes, thousands upon thousands of ordinary people dig deep in their pockets to try to counteract flood, famine, earthquake or disease. Also what of those magnificent human beings who choose to work for these charities - often on extremely low incomes in harsh circumstances - doing their bit to spread the message that being a human being should not be mainly about looking after number one, it should chiefly be about stretching out a helping hand to others.
On the question of goodness, what do you think?

4 comments:

  1. In most people there is an innate goodness. Unfortunately in today's world that goodness is often overshadowed by fear. It is hard to know if an act of kindess will result in tragedy. I guess if it feels right, then do it. If your instincts say no, then don't.

    YP, what an interesting life you must have had traveling about like that! Appeals to the gypsy in me. :)

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  2. I hope that in most people, there is goodness in abundance. I think a lot of goodness has to do with the kindness you were shown at various points in your life. How can you know kindness if you haven't experienced it? Maybe there are people who haven't experienced kindness from someone else, but through the love of taking care of something (an animal, a plant), experienced it thus.

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  3. Honestly, I think the company that I keep helps me to be more caring and compassionate. When I surround myself with good, decent and kind people, I know I'm in the right place.

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  4. First of all, a wonderful blog you have here. As to the question of goodness, well, at the risk of sounding trite, there is good and bad in all of us, if not always in equal measure. I think that the ordinary man's life is a hodgepodge of both the good and decent and the wayward and wretched. What that makes of this world exactly I don't know. Neither good nor evil, but worthwhile?

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