In my sophomore year of high school in English class we studied Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and the transcendentalist belief of the inherent goodness of people. My classmates were, apparently, a jaded bunch of teenagers who argued against that belief, citing all of the human on human crimes committed throughout history. I, on the other hand, spoke up and argued for the idea that deep down, sometimes really, really, really deep down under many layers of fecal matter, despair and a crust of cynicism, people ARE good. I said I believed that, given the chance and the right resources allowing for their own basic security, people will do the right thing for each other. No one agreed. People laughed. My teacher probably felt bad for me while simultaneously thinking ‘get a clue…and also do something about your hair, it’s going to be really embarrassing to look at in pictures when you get older.’
A couple of days later I found a bumper sticker placed on my 1982 AMC Eagle (in Dijon mustard yellow, if you were wondering) that read: HONK if you are a Transcendentalist. The bumper stick was created, printed and laminated by a classmate of mine who clearly has a great sense of humor. I acted indignant, but actually I loved it. I still have the bumper sticker in a drawer in my room.
Some 15 years later, I’m not as optimistic as I once was about the condition of humanity. I don’t know if I believe all people are good at their core. Basically, I believe I will never know. Circumstances are such that people are often not allowed to experience their full potential in any sense, let alone simply letting out their inner kindness for the sake of it. If I get through the day and don’t have any encounters that make me feel like stabbing someone, I feel good about the state of mankind.
And when you really get down to it, reading up on the transcendental idea of a Utopian society I get the feeling I’m being asked to join a cult. Nothing against cults or whatever.
The real world leaves me in a position to really, truly, intensely WANT to believe people are innately good and are doing their best and trying their hardest. I want to believe that about others. I want to believe that about myself.
But the real world also makes it unavoidable to deal with people who can and do lie to your face while smiling at you. They take what they can get and feel nothing but pride of their purpose. They don’t care. And when I think about it I start to get that stabby feeling again…
Until I look at this. In a world where this moment exists, I can get by. And I drink wine while I look at this. That helps as well.