December 28, 2011

People--What's Inside

People can perform good and kind deeds--they can love and care and share, they can be giving and help others in need, and they can innovate and create magnificent and beautiful works.
Yet, as we all know, people can also do horrible things. It's strange that when people do such things, we call them inhumane acts--I guess that helps to divorce us from their behavior, which we cannot understand or accept.
In Hebrew School we learned that it's as if there is a good angel over one shoulder telling you to do the "right" thing, and a "bad" angel over the other shoulder telling you to do the base and corrupt thing.
We were told that we all have free choice--to choose good over evil--some succeed and some do not. Unfortunately, there are way too many instances of the latter.
- Last week, I followed in horror the news story out of New York, where an elderly women in an elevator was cornered by a man who proceeded to douse her with gasoline and set her afire with a Molotov cocktail. This woman didn't have a fighting chance. She died a gruesome and senseless death.
- This week, I watched "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline with Chris Hansen. After many sessions airing, it is unbelievable that dozens upon dozens of sexual predators keep coming out of the woodwork and descending upon those who they believe are young teens home alone for what they think will be a "good time." This week, they caught a married man with 3 children of his own, someone who worked for Nickelodeon, and even a doctor!
What is remarkable about the Dateline series is that most of the predators know exactly what they are doing is wrong--they openly acknowledge it--yet they seem helpless to stop or control themselves. Many pursued the children even when they suspected it was a sting operation and they would get caught. The bad angel must really have their ears and consciences!
Of course, these examples are just that--snapshots of scary, bad things that people do every day, every moment in time. The flip side is that there are also good people doing extraordinarily good things too. The "CNN Heroes" series is a great example highlighting people feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, and protecting the downtrodden. These are just but some of these admirable and giving actions of decent people in our society.
Sometimes even it's the simple things that no one knows about or sees, but you know you did good. For example, the other day, there was some trash on the staircase going down to the metro. Someone could have easily slid, tripped, and fallen down the stairs. But after seeing numerous people just walk by it and pretend it wasn't even there, one person stopped and took the time to move it and prevent anyone from getting hurt. A simple thing, yet a small good deed in time.
Regardless of how we choose to live our live, the point is really that every choice/action we make can be a pivotal one--like our actions on a scale of justice--that can throw the world (our individual world or literally the entire world) into judgement for good or bad, and therefore we should choose wisely.
In the Torah, where G-d's angels are sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham tries to negotiate for the cities by whether their are 50, 20, 10 and so on good people there. Good people and their deeds count.
So what's inside people that really counts--it's potential. People have the potential to do the greatest acts of love, kindness, and self-sacrifice. But they also have the ability to do the unthinkable and inhumane.
It's challenging to know who and exactly what we are dealing with every day.
Maybe that's where the expression comes from: to hope for the best, but expect the worst. Judge everyone as if their intentions are good, but don't be too surprised when they are not.
While hope and expectations are part of our daily interaction with others, they are not enough. We need to be demanding of good choices of ourselves. Maybe even harder yet, we need to have the courage and strength to stand up to those who choose to listen to the demons that drive them.
(Source Photo: here)


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