believing in believing in people
Today, I had two encounters with people that reminded me how beautiful, loving, and gracious people are. They didn’t happen in a glittering room or a grungy exhibit; they happened in unexpected, everyday places. I have often felt the need to seek out oases of the right people, some cozy spot shielded away from the public, but these reminded me how much life spirit is everywhere.
Earlier, I rode the bus home and sat near the back where a couple of guys had a few cases of Modelo and were chatting in Spanish, handing out free beers to anyone who talked with them. My Spanish is fairly rusty, but of what I could make out, they were gushing to each other about how good life was because they get to eat meat and drink beer. Aqui, trabaje y tiene comida, tiene cerveza, tiene familia, que alegre. With every mention of alegre, a big smile struck across their faces. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and they were enjoying a few cold ones on a Thursday at 2pm. I loved it. I couldn’t help cracking a smile and studying their faces, noting the joyful wrinkles around the eyes.
Later, I called a bank customer service line and kept getting transferred between several agents, all of which asked me for my card number and went through the same long list of steps to verify that I was who I said I was. There was no waiting music or other indication for when the transfer went through, so I had to keep robotically chiming in “hello?” every minute or so to check in. In the course of this comical, annoying, and tiresome experience, a portal to connection was opened just a crack, which soon burst open. Here’s how it started:
The woman on the other end apologizes for keeping me waiting: “I’m still relatively new at this, just started here 2 weeks ago.”
*pause as I debate probing further*
“is it fun so far?”
“well… it’s actually quite stressful for me since i don’t want to mess things up for anyone.”
“ah, well you’ve been really diligent for me so i appreciate that and i’m sure you were with others as well.”
“I appreciate you saying that…
I just want to do the best I can at whatever I do.”
I felt a pang in my navel then. The last line reads so cliché, but there was something about the way she said it, an indication of her conviction in the statement, that made it feel so powerful. In the context of a customer service call about something incredibly boring as banking transfers, we had formed a bond. I didn’t even know her name, yet in that moment, I knew exactly how she felt. I felt a deep intimacy, similar to the kind I feel when exchanging dreams and honest feelings with close friends. In that small exchange, she had entrusted a piece of her heart to me.
I don’t know why these events struck me so much. For the bus, perhaps it’s because of all the discourse around public transportation in SF being terrible and dangerous and unusable. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been the person that will take public transit everywhere (partly from an illogical aversion to paying for a rideshare and partly because it’s an opportunity for surprise and for moving with and in the place you live in).
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been pushing myself to actually express my curiosity about people to them, to crack open the door to intimacy with the people I encounter everyday.
They don’t sound significant; they’re not the stuff of movie epics. But they were laden with meaning to me. They justified my philosophy of believing in people.
I can’t help but think people are so amazing. And I also can’t help but think about all the senseless violence committed by people, too. Along with all the hope and joy and warm fuzzy feelings I feel from these two encounters, I feel an underlying current of unease and shock at the other things that happen in the same place, often acts that prey on this belief and trust in other people. I hold these two opposite extremes in tension in my mind, willing them together but feeling them reject my wishes like magnets of the same pole. The more I push, the more they pull apart.
Humans are loving and gracious beyond what we think given the chance, but how can I urge everyone to trust others when there is objectively a lot to be afraid of?
Here’s what I know. Societies, communities, neighborhoods can’t operate if people live in fear of each other. There will always be some people that try to take advantage of the good will of others. So how do you live with a default trust of other people while protecting yourself from those who would capitalize on that trust? You must commit to that trust and rely on support networks to catch you when that trust is violated, to live out the belief in a trust-first world.
I’m not really satisfied with this answer, but it’s the best I have right now. Perhaps it’s a futile act to try to find something that can accommodate both. Perhaps being a believer in people is to embrace grace and joy along with suffering and pain. Maybe to commit to trusting in others by default, you say to yourself yes, I am willing to suffer the times my trust is misplaced.
I’ve always been a people optimist. I want to believe in people. I want to believe that I still believe in people. And I can’t help but swell with hope every time I experience these moments of life and authentic humanity. I want to believe the acts of violence are inhumane, in that they are beyond the nature of humanity. That they come from states of being untrue to our fundamental nature; that they are caused by a society where people are driven away from their inherent nature because they aren’t fulfilled or taken care of or loved.
Even if all this bad exists with so much good. I want to bear witness to the good. I want to honor these little, radical moments for reminding us how much beauty and vibrance is innate to us, if we are only willing to see it. How much limitless spirit is waiting to be released into the world to converge with other yearnings of souls. How we all enter this world for a small, insignificant blip of a life, and still, there are everyday moments that feel like holding infinity in the palm of our hands.