On being a decent human

Do you have experiences where somebody brings up a topic that you were just talking about someplace else? And you think, “OMG! I just said this last night!” Happens to me all the time. It’s not happenstance, I believe. There’s a reason why you have certain people in your life. Even if they’re not in the same network, we tend to attract similar people into our little circles of life.

The week of MLK Day, this happened to me. Michael was traveling, so ZMF and I were on our own. It was cold here and I was longing for the days of plucking ripe tomatoes and squishing warm dirt. (I have simple needs. ;-)) It got me thinking about how much I (and we) take from the earth. But what do I give back? My little slice of heaven here at the end of my cul de sac yields plentiful produce, beautiful flowers and a plethora of wildlife. But what do I give in return?

I started to ask myself. I came up with four things:

I put forth effort (mostly in the hopes of yielding something).

I put out birdseed.

I throw bruised fruit into the brush.

I use organic house cleaners, soaps and shampoos, fertilizers and seeds.

And this is all good, but I feel like I could be doing more. My immediate thought was composting. I could give back nutrients that I take from the earth. I can grow the tomatoes, peppers and herbs and then put the stems and cuttings back into the soil after decomposition. That’s simple. Settled. I’ll start composting.

But the question lingered.

The next morning in yoga class, my teacher brought up this very idea. Not of rotting vegetables, but of giving back at least at much as we take. He used the example of human rights. We all demand rights, right? Equal rights. Voting rights. Reproductive rights. Religious rights. But, do we give back to others all this respect, equality and human decency that we demand so readily? When is the last time that you sat in traffic and fumed over the person who made a “dick move?” When is the last time that you got your panties in a twist over a messed up restaurant order?

For some of us it’s recently. And frequently. When it happens, we feel justified in passive-aggressively rolling our eyes at the barista who put some mysterious syrup in our latte that was supposed to be a straight-up latte, thank you very much.

Why do we get so pissed? Maybe some of you don’t. Kudos. Maybe these aren’t your hot button issues. There are others I know who act like the world is in their way.

I feel like our society has lost its desire to be nice. Genuinely nice. Not just because we’re taught about customer service or what happens to you when you die. Rather, as end goal in its own right because being a decent human being to other human beings is the most important thing in the world.

My sister recently told me about a woman who moved to Columbus, Ohio, from India. She got spat on. She was told that she needed to repeat herself because no one could understand her. And she was told to “go home.” Seriously, what is wrong with people?

Maybe this strikes a chord with me because I will soon be living in Germany. I will be trying to navigate things like laundromats and grocery stores and pharmacies. I’ll need haircuts and pedicures. And I have high hopes that the good people of Germany are nicer to me than those Americans were to that woman.

All of this got me thinking (I do that when I wake up at 3 am). Maybe giving back is as simple as being kind. Talking kindly. Small gestures. I don’t need to give Bill Gates-level donations. I don’t need volunteer Mother Teresa-level hours. I’ll do what I can, of course. But what if we all decided to act like decent human beings? If we stopped spitting on immigrants, for starters?

In a TED Talk I watched recently, the speaker cited a study wherein the group was divided into two. They were all given the same amount of money. One group was told to spend the money on themselves. The other group was told to spend the money on someone else. Afterward, they were interviewed to find out levels of happiness and satisfaction. Lo and behold, the group that spent it on others reported feeling better and overall happier.

It feels good to be nice to other people.

Have you ever had a day where you wanted to go back to bed and wake up again so that you could start over? Then suddenly, something good happens to you? Someone does or says something nice? It changes everything!

Everyone is going through something.

I remember the day I got the diagnosis that I had cancer. A few hours later, I had to go to the grocery store, because, you know, life does go on as usual. As the boy was bagging my food. He said, “How are you today?” For a minute it didn’t even register that someone was talking to me. He repeated himself. And I muttered a pretty bland, “I’ve had better days.” And I have. No doubt. But this boy tried to give me the old “chin up” speech. Clearly, this was not a Wrong Coffee Order kind of day, but it was still nice that a strange young boy was trying. It made me smile. Even if for a minute.

I’m not saying that we can all fix each other’s problems, but for heaven’s sake, we don’t need to make them worse.

Everyone is going through something. I’m going to do my best to give everyone a little something nice. Because I know I’d sure like that in return.

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