Reason Not to Lose Faith in Humanity #5: People are complicated and weird by Erin

The title of this series, “Reasons Not to Lose Faith in Humanity”, implies that humanity is a bleak collective, teetering on the inevitable brink of failure. It assumes that a considerable portion of human beings are irretrievably terrible: the representatives of immoral corporations, aggressively ignorant bigots, or just apathetic and uninterested in making the world a better place. These people resemble fairy-tale villains, who are always cleanly separated from heroes by their devotion to evildoing. As a consequence, only a distinct minority of extremely special people can claim to be invested in the betterment of the world and to have any human decency whatsoever. Additionally, it suggests that we should re-examine humanity in the context of the good that is ever so occasionally done by this bizarre fringe group of “good people”.

After much thought, I would like to concede that the world isn’t like that at all.

People aren’t either one thing or another; they’re a little bit good and a little bit bad, and complicated in between. I would like to imagine other human beings with complexity and understanding, and know that no one person envisions humanity just as another one does. People can’t be boxed into goodness or badness; if anything, only their actions can.

The inspiration for this column was a series of deliberate, altruistic actions, both those I observe on a day-to-day basis and others, encompassing humanitarian movements and philanthropy. Some of them are ingrained into our conscience, like holding doors open for people behind us, tipping percentages in coffeehouses and restaurants, the little jog that people do when the light turns green while they’re still in the centre of a crosswalk, and the minor pleasantries that we insert into conversation to put others at ease. Others inhabit the realm of Good Samaritanship: calling 911 when the time comes, learning mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR, and fetching Lassie when Little Timmy falls down a well. Some are broader and more egregiously motivated by kindness, like the topics I have covered in the past, such as crowd-funding, We Day, and Nerdfighters.

These aren’t efforts made by humanity: it’s individual people who do good, not all seven billion of us collectively. That being said, a more appropriate title for this column might be “Humanity is Morally Grey and Sometimes Individuals Do Cool Stuff”, but it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way as the current one.

It’s easy to be jaded and cynical, and so it’s valuable to recognize that humanity isn’t exclusively crappy. Bad things don’t negate good things, nor vice versa, nor should they set the standard for the future; humanity isn’t an anonymous entity the world’s problems should be blamed on. People are complicated and weird and in spite of that, they do the right thing for others. That is worth celebrating and that, if nothing else, gives me hope.