I don’t know of a time in my fifty-five years on Earth when I have felt more discouraged and disappointed in humankind. While I have never been what you would call a people person, I guess I wanted to believe that most people were brought up with the same values and ideals that I was and that most were, basically, good people. I grew up going to Sunday school and preaching at Hopewell Presyterian Church. Both there and at home, I was taught to be hospitable, kind, respectful, empathetic, caring, nurturing, considerate, dependable, and giving. I learned The Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
My biggest role models were my parents and my paternal grandmother. They shaped me like a lump of clay through their words, and even more so, through their example.
My dad will tell you to this day that he has never met a person he didn’t like. Personally, I didn’t believe Will Rogers when I heard he’d made that claim, and I don’t believe my dad on that one, either. We all have those folks who have hurt us, threatened us, stolen something from us, or embarrassed us. My dad is prone to overlook those hurts and slights. He puts things in the past and moves on like his mother did before him. I’m fairly sure that is one of the reasons it is difficult to find anyone who knows my dad that doesn’t like him. When I was growing up, he was always doing for others outside the family, sometimes to a fault. I’m his “baby” and up into my forties, he was still volunteering as an active member of The Long Creek Optimist Club, supporting programs for kids who were young enough to be his grandkids. I don’t believe he ever learned the word “No”. If he was asked by a neighbor or organization to help, he was there. From him, I learned to be dependable, caring, trustworthy, and responsible.
My mother had a horrible upbringing with a schizophrenic mother who could be fine one minute and the next she was “gonna pick up a stick and kill you.” That upbringing made my mom somewhat leery of trusting and opening up to people. Until she knew you, she was reserved. This may have come off to strangers as cold or unfriendly. However, once you knew her, she was the most dependable, loyal, caring friend you could have. Though she was the middle child of five siblings, she was like a substitute mother to all of the others. At thirteen, she worked in the cafeteria at school during her lunch hour so that her two younger siblings could eat. Instead of learning how to act towards others from her mother, my mom learned how not to act. As a mother, she was firm with us, but fair. There was never any doubt who was in control and “because I said so” was all my brother or I needed to hear to settle a matter. I looked up to my mother both for the care she took of our family, and for the kind and caring way she treated neighbors, relatives, friends, and even strangers. She was the person who would take a meal to a neighbor who had experienced a death in the family, put up a Christmas tree for her wheelchair-bound ex-brother-in-law, or go overboard with Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes or Angel Tree gifts. She was a giver. Mom always swore she liked the chicken neck and wings while Dad and I got the thighs and Curtis the breasts. She put us first and sacrificed to give us things she could not have even dreamed of as a child. She taught me to be empathetic, generous, giving, considerate, thoughtful … and how to say “No” when it was in my best interest or the interest of my family to do so.
The shining example of living The Golden Rule in my life was my Grandma Cartner. To this day, I have never met anyone else as kind, caring, forgiving or Christian as she was. Though I try to be like her in most every way possible, she set really high standards. I witnessed deep hurts inflicted on her, but I never saw her retaliate or do anything other than understand and forgive. I never remember hearing her speak a bitter word about another person. She had the most open heart and she welcomed people into her home and took care of them like family, whether they were or not. For many years I felt angry for her about some of the slights I witnessed, but when I told her how I felt, she encouraged me to consider where the “guilty party” was coming from, to see the events in their lives that shaped them, and to let it go. She’s the person who taught me that holding onto grudges, hurt feelings, or hate hurt me, not the person who caused those feelings. She explained that forgiveness was really a gift to myself as much as it was to the other person. She taught me to “walk a mile in their shoes” before I judged others.
All my life I have tried to practice the things my role models taught me. I believe in hospitality, kindness, respectfulness, empathy, caring, nurturing, consideration, dependability and a giving spirit. Also, I’m a Southerner through and through. I say “thank you” and “please”, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir”. I hold doors open for others and let them out in traffic. I let a hostess or a cashier know if someone else was there before I was. I give what I can to friends in need. If I say I will be somewhere, I am there. If I say I will do something, it’s written in stone. I am far from perfect. I just try to put into practice the values and morals I was taught as much as I can and I expect others to do the same.
It’s getting harder and harder to think the best of people, like my folks taught me. I am tired, burned out, anxious and afraid of what the future holds. I am more reserved, more alone than I have ever been. I’m growing to prefer my solace because all around me I see ugliness, selfishness, inconsideration, hatefulness, delusion, and self-centeredness. Otherwise intelligent people are making the simple things like the wearing of a mask in the presence of others a political issue instead of an opportunity to protect others. Every trip to the store I’m surrounded by people who can’t be bothered to follow the arrows that would at least put their coughs or sneezes on someone else’s back rather than in their face. When I have mentioned this on social media I’ve gotten responses like, “I ain’t got time for that.” It blows my mind that anyone would take that attitude. I get that some people out there don’t believe, despite the actual people in their own lives who have gotten sick or died, that there is anything to this pandemic. But how difficult is it to take an extra minute out of your day to be considerate of those who are afraid or who are vulnerable due to underlying conditions? How is your time more important than someone else’s health, be it physical or mental? I think of following the arrows in the store the same way I think of holding the door for the person who’s coming in behind me. It’s the same as staying at home and washing my hands often when I have a cold, so I don’t pass it on to someone else. It’s realizing I am not the center of the universe. It’s caring … plain and simple … about the people around me who I don’t even know, but who I assume are important enough to someone out there to protect.
The situation with the arrows in the stores is a small example of a more widespread attitude that has been unmasked for me over the last six months. There are many more like the run on and hoarding of toilet paper and food that lasted for months into the pandemic. The focus on me, me, me was comical at first and then annoying and disappointing. I could only guess that people felt so out of control that they lost their minds and having a year’s supply of toilet paper somehow made them feel safe.
I’ve seen more selfish and bad behavior than ever or the rare occasions when I am out in the world, but what I have seen online is even worse. Hiding behind their keyboards, people are spewing hateful words at Facebook “friends” and people they don’t even know over the pettiest things imaginable. I’ve seen people calling others “sheep” because they are being considerate of others and wearing a mask in public. I’ve seen even more hateful comments in support of and against this or that politician, spreading derision and hate.
In the larger world, outside the protective bubble of my life, I’m seeing more division, more hate, more violence, and less tolerance than ever in my lifetime. The noise of the media and the acting out caused by anger, frustration, and a feeling of impotence have coalesced into a stew of hate. Some people are lapping it up and vomiting that darkness back into the world. I am frankly stunned at the report of a crowd of people outside the hospital chanting, “We hope they die!” as two police officers, shot for no reason whatsoever that anyone can point to other than hatred, fought for their lives in surgery Saturday night. It makes me nauseous to think that there are those out there that see only the badge and not the father, son, husband, brother, mother, daughter, wife, sister … the real person behind it. I can only speculate at this point that this despicable act was a misguided attempt at revenge. I don’t know if the perpetrator expects to be seen as a hero in his community or if he was performing some type of gang initiation when he opened fire on two, unsuspecting people just doing their job. Surely no one could believe that killing some random officer will accomplish any goal or make things better. I suspect all it will do is cause more bitterness, more hatred and division on both sides of the issue.
I stopped watching the news long ago. I’m spending very little time on social media. I’m limiting my trips out in public. Alone, I am praying ceaselessly. I pray that people will turn things around, that they will look in the mirror and see how they are acting and how their behavior is being modeled for the next generation, their own kids. I pray that my family and friends will be protected against those who are careless and selfish. I pray for our police officers who are out there every day risking their lives to keep us safe. I pray for broken hearts to be healed in those who have lost someone they love to illness or violence. I pray for those who are filled with hurt and hate, that they can turn their feelings into positive actions for real change.
Most of all, I pray that it won’t be long before He returns. I am ready, God.
Until that time I will keep practicing The Golden Rule and hope that, by example, I can inspire others to do the same.