Anne Frank famously wrote: "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."
I used to believe that. I'm sad to say that I no longer do. I do believe firmly that most people are born good, and it is only after going through heartbreak or suffering or the steady chipping away of their self-esteems, that goodness gets either beaten out of them or buried deep inside them where it's barely accessible anymore.
Anne Frank started writing in her diary at age 13. The quote above was written when she was 15 and had been in hiding for more than 2 years. She was brilliant beyond her years and her dream of living beyond her death has blessedly come true. She died at 16, getting to live and breathe for only around 5,700 days (roughly 750 of those days spent completely indoors and in fear). I am very grateful for her words that continue to live on and inspire others when they are going through difficult times.
I wonder though, would she still have felt that people were truly good at heart had she witnessed the unspeakable horrors that were going on nearby? She writes with the optimism of a young heart, who while in her prison had also been sheltered from the heinous acts that human beings were inflicting upon other human beings. It's understandable that she would have this view because thankfully she did not see the truth of what was going on until she herself was shipped away to witness it, her unfinished diary left behind.
Obviously I am not comparing anything in my life to her life. That is not my intention at all because, quite simply, that is absurd. But I am taking that phrase that she wrote, and trying to attach it to my older, scarred, oft-wounded heart.
I can't do it.
I sincerely wish I could. The truth is, I know a lot of very good people. They have good hearts and good souls and they don't try to make the world more difficult for other people.
But the truth also is, I know a lot of people who were probably once good, but who have allowed the cruelty and injustices of the world around them penetrate their hearts and replace the good intentions and feelings with ones of resentment, anger, and frustration. These people's goodness is buried so deeply inside of them that I don't think they can even find it anymore, much less those of us who are outside of their damaged souls.
It seems that most people are looking out for themselves first, and consideration toward others isn't even on their radar most of the time. I believe that, ideally, acts of kindness like helping someone on the side of the road, rescuing someone from a flood, or paying for someone's meal anonymously shouldn't be so rare that they make news headlines. Instead, shouldn't this behavior be the norm? We are all on this Earth together so it seems to me that we should be seeking out ways to help one another and lift each other up, instead of taking every opportunity to get in the way or bring each other down.
It's gotten to the point where my family and I are genuinely surprised when we have a pleasant, no-strings attached conversation with a salesperson or acquaintance. It also makes us think, "Wouldn't it be nice if most people acted like that on a regular basis?"
But everyone has their own demons and issues that they are carrying around and often times spewing them about onto others. And while I believe that everyone views themselves as nice and caring and kind, nine times out of ten a person will throw their fellow human being under a proverbial bus if it will save him/herself from blame or misery or unpleasant consequences.
Nine times out of ten. Yep, that's what I said. Why do I say that? Because I've seen it. I've experienced it in every job I have had, and also with people who had claimed to be my friends. I've seen it happen to family members, I've read about it in history books, and I've seen it countless times on television and social media. It seems that no matter how good we try to be as people ourselves, we still have to face the people who are far from good at heart.
But enough of that cynicism. Let's try to figure out a way to deal with the fact that the majority of people we come in contact with every day are not whom we would consider to be good at heart, even though they may truly want to be.
I turn to Anne for another quote: "I don't think of all of the misery, but of the beauty that still remains."
Ah yes. Thank you Anne, for these amazing words of wisdom, and ones that I can actually get on board with.
It's true that people will be unkind no matter what you do. It's true that people will try to sabotage your good work and bad-mouth you to others for the purpose of making themselves feel better. People will insult you to your face, make rude, unnecessary comments about aspects of how you live, they will degrade, demean, and belittle you without giving it a second thought, and yes, sometimes people will also betray you and lie and take advantage of you and your relationship. It happens, and it hurts every time.
But thankfully, we have a way out of this mess, and we must get ourselves out of it or we're in danger of becoming like the people who have wronged us. And that way is, to see the beauty that still remains. Yes, this person who said they were a friend stabbed us in the back and made us doubt our ability to connect with and trust others. But, this OTHER person remembered our birthday and dropped off soup when we were sick. A-ha! We can choose to focus our attention on the first person or the second person. We can fill our mind with how badly we feel and how wrong it was for us to be treated that way, or we can change our thoughts to appreciate the good things, and the good people in our lives.
This is not easy to do. For some reason it is always easier to focus on the misery rather than the beauty. Maybe if we plan for the misery and stay prepared in our headspace for it, then that will help us deal with it when it comes. Well guess what? It doesn't work that way! Misery comes to all of us at one point or another, and staying miserable doesn't prevent it from happening nor does it make it easier to deal with when it's there. It's coming whether we think about it or not, I so think it makes sense to spend our precious time here on Earth focusing on the good things, the joyful things, and the things that make us happy.
I've said it before: Happiness is a choice. We can choose to look at every situation positively or negatively and it's all going on inside our heads. Some people curse the rain because it means they have to stay inside while others praise the rain for it helping to make their gardens grow. It's all in how you look at it.
So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me still believing that most people are not good at heart, but I'm making the choice to focus on the people and things that I know ARE good - good for me and good for the world around me - and keep my eyes on the beauty that remains.