WTF Wednesday: In which a good deed shocks me

Posted on
Feb 2, 2011

Over the years, I’ve developed a mantra. A little phrase I repeat to myself, when I become so fed up with the entire world that I just might scream. I close my eyes, I take a deep breath, and I say it gently to myself.

“I hate humanity,” I say.

Okay, fine. So it’s not exactly a mantra. Mantras are supposed to calm you down and bring you inner peace. Mine simply serves to put words to the blackness that I feel in the center of my soul for my fellow man, a blackness so dark and hateful, that if I don’t channel it, distill it into those three powerful words, I will start screaming.

I simply utter them under my breath, usually once, maybe twice. My confession instantly makes me feel better. And since I’ve declared hatred for all humanity, my expectations are ridiculously low. If you define people as being generally loathsome, you can’t get angry when right-turning drivers honk impatiently at pedestrians who have right-of-way, or when restaurant patrons belittle the waitstaff for things they can’t possibly control.

I hate humanity. So I can’t be disappointed by it.

I don’t know when, exactly, I became so jaded. I suspect it’s the result of all the things I’ve seen in my travels. Want to see the worst of mankind? Watch people fighting over a cab or vying for a table at a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. We are nothing but savages, regardless of what we try to convince ourselves. I’ve reached the point where even kind gestures are met with suspicion. Offer to help me find my way, and I’ll be convinced you’re trying to rob me. Or, as they do in New York subway, you’ll simply point to a map next to you (one I could have easily looked at on my own), say a bunch of unintelligible things that sound somewhat like directions, and hit me up for money.

Of course, just when you’ve written them all off, people will surprise you.

Back in December, were in San Francisco, as Rand had a conference. A bunch of our friends were in town, and after one of the events, I convinced everyone that we needed to go to Mel’s Drive-In – an absurdly cheesy diner downtown – for pie. What? My dessert addiction is contagious. Rather than endure the sheer unpleasantness that is me without a glucose-induced buzz, everyone agreed. And at a late hour, we found ourselves eating pie and ice cream. I was content.

Home of pie.

"Why are we here again?" "I told you. If she doesn't get sugar every 45 minutes, she turns in a wolfman.

There were a few people from the conference sitting at other tables. They were easy to spot in their professional attire, eating burgers. Some were even still wearing their conference badges. I thought some of them might stop by to say hello, but no one did. Instead, they all finished their meals and left, one by one, toting their briefcases into the cool, San Francisco night, until it was our turn to go as well.

We asked for bill. Our server went to grab it, and came back empty-handed.

It had already been paid.

“By who?” we inquired, somewhat shocked.

The waitress explained that our benefactor had already left. They simply paid and popped out, without saying a word about it, without leaving a note nor business card. They hadn’t done it to network. Hell, they hadn’t even done it to be thanked, as they left before we had chance to do so.

They just did it to be nice. They bought us pie.

Um, WTF?

I sat, shocked. This directly refuted everything I knew about mankind. I apparently wasn’t the only one who had little faith in humanity, because everyone else seemed nearly as surprised as me. One of our friends at the table mentioned how his mother, who had recently passed away, often did things like that – paying tolls for the car behind her, buying people’s groceries, picking up the tab for strangers.

She did it without the recipients knowing. She did it just to be nice.

And so, with her mind, and with an excess of goodwill that had been handed to us by a stranger, we left the restaurant. But not before Rand surreptitiously picked up the tab for two kids sitting at the counter.

It was enough to make me rethink the way I look at people. Enough to make me consider dropping my “I hate humanity” mantra for something that accounts for all the surprising and unexpected good we occasionally encounter.

Something like, “Pie tastes even better when it’s altruistic.”

Okay, fine. It needs some work. Sorry. Not hating humanity is new to me. But you get the idea.

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