I’m a cynical S.O.B. I don’t pretend otherwise. However, from time to time, there’s a moment that makes me rethink my default position that humanity in Albany is doomed. Such a moment happened at the mall this past weekend. It was a simple gesture, but it made an impact. After that kindness, we saw far worse, as well.
My family and I were looking for a place to sit in the very crowded food court. An older gentleman was sitting at a table with four chairs all by his lonesome when he noticed us looking for a seat. He got up, grabbed our attention, and directed us to take over the table. He moved to a two-seat table in short order.
Obviously, we thanked him profusely. It was a simple gesture, like I said earlier, but it made that big impact because it wasn’t really necessary. We would have eventually found a table and wouldn’t have thought ill of people who didn’t move for us. It didn’t matter. He stepped up and showed the best of humanity on a small scale. After all, what separates us from the animals is our ability to show compassion to one another despite not knowing each other from Adam’s housecat.
After we ate our pizza, we wandered the mall for a bit. We had some time to kill before the next showing of Harry Potter, so why not? It was pretty clear that we were a family unit, but unless we were all holding hands (and 10-year-old boys aren’t crazy about holding Mom and Dad’s hands, let me tell you) then people seemed to not care about trying to squeeze in between the three of us.
No, I’m a chubby sort of guy, but I’m not so fat that one can’t take a single step to the side and avoid my fat butt completely. Instead, people preferred to walk between my wife and me, my wife and my son, or my son and me. My wife and son in particular were bumped and banged by inconsiderate people.
So there we were, within an hour, witnessing the best and worst in humanity. Oh sure, it sounds so small, but in both cases we saw a micro-example of that best and worst. On one hand, we had compassion and charity from someone who only saw people in need. On the other hand, we saw selfishness and unwarranted aggression. One is the source of so many great things in life; the other is a sign of so much that is wrong with this world.
What solutions do I offer? Darned if I know. I know enough to know that I don’t have the answers to everything, and this case is no different. What I do know is that whatever solutions we can find must cultivate the actions of the older gentleman, while countering the actions of so many others who care so little about their fellow man.
I know it sounds unusual coming from a guy who’s read Atlas Shrugged four times, but I do believe that altruism has a noble place in our lives. A simply act by a man to a family of strangers has resonated more than I suspect he ever intended. More of those acts by each of us, and we may actually melt the cold hearts of the other kinds of folks I described. It may be a vain hope, but what the heck? What do we have to lose?