They say you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, but who wants to catch flies? I think the lesson is it’s easier to draw people by being sweet than sour, but it falls apart when you consider flies typically congregate around dead things. The saying should be, you can catch more flies with a corpse than you can with insecticide. But I suppose it doesn’t have quite the same bumper-sticker value.
Either way, there’s something fundamentally important about treating people well. How would your life be different if you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? What if, instead of always assuming the negative, you gave your fellow man the benefit of the doubt? Dare you hope for the best in others, instead of assuming the worst?
Look, I get it, people can be pretty terrible. I read the news, I see all the terrible things that happen. I am not blind to society’s many ills, at the same time I hold that human beings — for all their flaws — are worthy of far more than misanthropic pessimism.
A friend and I were talking about the people of this area, in general, and we agreed that the overwhelming majority are pretty dang awesome. There are a few who love drama — who love to needlessly stir the pot with gossip, slander, and backbiting — but the “quiet majority” are glad to lend a hand, share a kind word, and look out for their fellow man.
Few of us are blessed with power and glory, only a small fraction of the people who have ever lived and died on this planet are in the position to bend human history by the sheer force of their will, but each and every one of us can have a hand in crafting the future.
For every rare innovator and world leader, there are millions whose lives direct everyone they know and love. It is not the wave which wears down the rock, but the millions of small drops falling gradually over time. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and generosity that human history is shaped.
Earlier this week a local resident passed along some gossip she’d heard, apparently another person had expressed some rather “uncharitable” opinions about me. Shocking, I know, but unavoidable. In the great tangle of human existence, we’re bound to occasionally pluck each other’s sensibilities from time to time. I told her I wasn’t worried about it, that I didn’t know how I’d caused offense, but I can take the bad with the good.
None of us are above reproach. The gossip I hear about myself never lives up to how wretched a sinner I believe myself to be. I’m enough of a Calvinist to know whatever goodness abides in me is derivative from something greater than the sum of my own parts. Still, I want to be better, I want to be good. I want to be the kind of person that kind people like and want to be like.
When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they often will become what they should be. I believe this. We should, as the philosopher Plato wrote, “Be kind to all, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. People can be terrible, yes, but they can be wonderful too. The occasional burn from a selfish jerk will always hurt, but there is a salve to the spirit that comes from knowing you did all you could to be fair, honest, and generous with them.
Kindness, like love, is a weapon that cannot be defeated. The natural world is neither kind nor loving, but wants to return us to the dust from which we came. This is one of the many ways in which the human spirit transcends base matter. We’re not animals. We can defy our instinct, and return kindness for cruelty… show love in the face of hate. The gift of a human heart is one we all receive at birth and, like any gift, it can be squandered or hidden — seldom used, and forgotten. Oh, but it is a treasure, possibly the rarest in all the universe.
I would have you guard well that treasure within you. Love, hope, empathy, kindness, and forgiveness. Share them without hesitation or regret, and find yourself all the more richer in giving them away.