Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Are People Born Good or Bad?

In one of my political science classes my freshman year of college, my professor asked the class to vote on whether we believed people were naturally Frodos or Gollums. Meaning, if given power, would they act altruistically or selfishly? Would people do what is good for others or what is good for themselves? When my professor asked that question, I answered that I thought that people were naturally Gollums. I really thought that the average person would act selfishly if they had the chance. 

But that summer, my views of human nature drastically changed. I got an internship at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and every day I rode the train into the city. On my second day of work, I was trying to purchase my train ticket. At the station, they had touch-screen ticket machines which required credit cards as payment. On one of the machines, the credit card swiper didn't work. I panicked. The train was bound to arrive any minute! I tried the other machine. The touch screen wouldn't work. I was really in a bind. If I couldn't buy my ticket, I couldn't get on the train. If I couldn't get on the train, I couldn't get to work. If I couldn't get to work, I wouldn't be able to keep my job. 

It was at that moment that I noticed a man watching me from about ten feet away. He was young, probably in his late twenties. His jeans were baggy and worn low. His t-shirt was oversized. He was the kind of guy that, based on his outward appearance, would make me clutch my purse tighter. 

Noticing the panic on my face, he began to approach me. He tapped me on my shoulder and slipped a piece of paper into my hand. I looked at it. He had given me his free-ride ticket! I thanked him over and over again, and right as I did so the train arrived. He didn't smile at me, he just said, "you're welcome." 

For the rest of the summer, I watched that man as we waited for the train in the morning. Every morning, he would stand by the ticket machine and watch to make sure everyone was able to get their tickets. If they couldn't, he would give them one. 

He was a man that initially frightened me a little by his outward appearance. But he was probably the nicest and most compassionate person that rode the train every day. Moral of the story: people, even the ones who you think are the worst, may actually be the best. 

Another experience that changed how I viewed human nature also happened that summer on the train. I was wrapped up in my book, and I didn't notice that every seat on the train was filled, and that an old woman had boarded the train and would have to stand for the remaining 40 minutes of the commute. A young business man immediately surrendered his seat to the old woman, who was very appreciative. This small act of kindness warmed my heart, but made me criticize myself for not being the one to notice the needs of others. 

Before that summer, I had lost faith in the human race. I thought people were selfish and prone to cruelty. But my experiences on the train changed my mind forever. I now strongly believe that people are naturally good. The average person would help another person in need. We are all children of the same God, so we need to treat each other as the princes and princesses that they are. If you don't believe that, then you will agree with me that we are all experiencing this life together, and we owe it to ourselves and others to treat others with kindness, as those men on the train did. 

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