Once again, time is still short and my resources are limited, but that won’t stop me from sharing whatever I can in the meantime (quick update: it may be another week until my laptop is repaired and I can start posting more voluminously and regularly).
Earlier today, a friend of mine informed me of fairly old but still relevant story from NPR about an interesting and rare fear of human compassion. It was inspiring enough that I immediately felt compared to post and reflect on. It’s brief, so I’ll copy and paste the entire transcript here. Anyone that wants to listen could click this link.
Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.
But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.
He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.
“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.
As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.
“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.
Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.
“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”
“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”
Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”
“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.
Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.
The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.
When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”
Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”
Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”
“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
Needless to say, the fact that this happened 3 years ago isn’t important (indeed, I wouldn’t share it otherwise). Such seemingly rare stories are well worth reading and knowing about no matter the time or place of their occurrence. Good is good regardless of the context. I just wonder what I would do in this man’s situation.
Would I have freaked out and ran? Would I have cursed and yelled and damned that petty criminal? Would I have gone home downtrodden and misanthropic, feeling like I’ve lost a lot of hope in humanity once I gave my wallet up (as we’re apt to do when we’ve been trespassed by others)? What would you have done? Where does this sort of human kindness and empathy come from? Why did the mugger reciprocate it and show himself to be receptive to such kind words, when he ultimately had nothing to gain from it?
I know this is a common, if not cliche, gripe, but it always pains me to see what little attention we give to touching tales like this. It’s not just an issue with mass media either, which is in any case merely responding to demand: we humans seem to have a innate morbid curiosity towards tragedy, conflict, and fright – basically, to negative narratives.
I hardly have the time to reflect on the sociological, psychological, or even scientific reasons as for why this is – thought it’d no doubt be interesting – but I think it’s very important to keep all this in mind the next time we find ourselves saturated with news of death, destruction, incompetence, and numerous other manifestations of human failing and misery. Underneath it all is an unseen world where good deeds like this transpire all the time, never to get much attention (which if anything, makes them all the more beautiful).
We could argue which side of the story is more predominate – I’m sure most people find wrongness and evil to prevail far more than good – but in a world as perpetually confusing, overwhelming, scary as ours, any simple expression of humanity’s best qualities is a well needed respite, a flicker of light in the darkness if you will.