STRIVING FOR BALANCE
By NANCY PATRICK
Abilene, Texas, a relatively quiet, safe place to live, has had a recent increase in violence. This has prompted me to ponder the causes of such unusual behavior not only in Abilene but also around the world. My dilemma relates to the apparent fear and anger felt by many people who behave badly—both verbally and physically. I realize that we all need to feel secure both in our personal and social spaces, but reacting in ugly, violent ways does not solve the problem. We need to figure out a way to balance our own needs, views, beliefs, and opinions with those of others so we can live together civilly.
I know this goal is attainable because many people have inspired my heart with their human kindness and courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. For example, media reports of the recent forest fires in California include accounts of firefighters taking the time to water gardens for residents who have evacuated the area while some first responders have fed abandoned or lost animals and even reported property status to homeowners using the security cameras on the owners’ porches.
In flooded areas, total strangers have plunged into raging waters to rescue people from their vehicles, roofs, or tree branches. In addition to these stories, a recent report showed a vehicle burning after a crash as passersby rushed to the fire to pull passengers through doors and windows.
What in human nature would inspire such unselfish behavior from total strangers? I believe most people possess a “human kindness” innateness that causes the iciest heart to melt a few drops of tenderness at the sight of a child’s suffering and the stoniest face to crack a smile at a child’s innocent play. How, then, does it happen that these same people morph into unrecognizable versions of their better selves when politics or religion enter the picture? Justin Holloway’s column in the Abilene Reporter-News (Aug. 16, 2018) made me realize how concerned I have been in the midst of the ugliness, meanness, and incivility in our current society. The publicity of Senator John McCain’s death and funeral certainly highlighted our admiration for those who can maintain relationships even when the parties disagree. Some reporters said his death ended an era of open-mindedness and willingness to listen to others and work with them in a framework of respect and decent behavior.
The vitriol we hear in today’s news divides us unnecessarily. We do not have to war with our neighbors, friends, relatives, or other citizens of the world. We can choose our better selves—the ones who jump into the water to save a drowning person or pull a child from a burning car. As members of humanity, we can all remember that we generally want the same things (safety, security, love, and sustenance) even though we might disagree on the methods of attaining those goals.
CBS correspondent Steve Hartman does a Friday evening segment called “On the Road.” Each week he relates a human-interest story that reminds viewers of their humanity and the need to show interest in other human beings. My favorite story relates a chance encounter between an eighty-two-year old widower, Dan Peterson, and four-year-old Norah Wood. Peterson, who had buried his wife several months prior to meeting Norah, was suffering a deep depression, having lost his will to live. As he pushed his grocery cart toward the cashier’s lane, he heard, “Hi, old person; it’s my birthday today.” He looked up to see the little girl in her mother’s cart. Norah then told Peterson she needed a hug, and he said, “Absolutely.”
The story does not end with their chance encounter. Norah’s mother says she cannot explain the connection between her daughter and her elderly friend, but she takes Norah to visit Peterson every week. Peterson calls Norah his “angel,” crediting her love with rescuing him from his depression and giving him new purpose in life (Nov. 18, 2016). This story of innate human connection illustrates humanity’s capacity for kindness, love, unselfishness, and empathy. These essential qualities create a path for civilization’s survival.
Yes, politics and religion play an important role in most people’s lives; however, each person deserves respect for his or her own choices in political life just as we respect people’s individual expressions of spirituality. Likewise, no democracy boasts a one political party system. Democracy means freedom and choice. Norah Wood, though neither religious nor political, knows the secret of successful human relationships—love and unselfishness. Dan Peterson found new life by accepting love offered freely with no political or religious strings attached.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.