The Light in the Darkness

After a short shopping trip yesterday afternoon, I returned to the parking lot to find that two large vehicles had parked on either side of my rather small car, sandwiching me in and obscuring my view of the cross traffic behind me. So, after situating my belongings and taking a brief phone call, I put my car in reverse, checked to make sure there were no cars directly behind me, then started slowly inching my way out of the parking space and into the aisle.

I had barely gone a foot and my view had still not been unobstructed when I heard a honk and saw the hood of a black SUV, bowing with the force of a hard stop, come into my sightline. I hit the breaks and, since I was feeling a bit put-out with the impatience of this person that had been barreling down the aisle of a parking lot, I muttered to myself, "Really!?" Once I gathered my composure, I pulled back into the parking spot and prepared to wait until the SUV had passed.

Instead of simply passing by, though, the woman in the SUV pulled up directly behind me, blocking me into my space, and proceeded to blatantly threaten and yell at me. I watched in disbelief through my rearview mirror and wondered how long this could possibly go on. Finally, after an unnecessary amount of time, she continued on her way, parked in the no-parking zone, and walked into the shopping center. 

I had endured or observed several similar events in the recent past, so, as I drove off, I could feel myself losing just a little more faith in the kindness of others. Later that night, I learned of the attacks in Paris... The news of these grievous acts made my experience in the parking lot seem laughable, yet, ironically, more deeply entrenched my gloomy perspective on humanity that it had originally reaffirmed.

Though, as I laid in bed this morning lamenting the decline of love and kindness in our world, I opened Twitter to find a promising tweet by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. It vowed to explain why we should believe in the goodness of others despite the existence of evil. The Brain Pickings article to which it linked summarized Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl's thoughts on "believing in each other and viewing the human spirit with hope rather than cynicism."

In her post, Popova quotes Frankl's central message: "If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him … we promote him to what he really can be." In other words, if we devalue others by expecting them to behave decently, they will fall short by acting only passably or worse. If we overestimate them by believing that they will behave ideally, though, we elevate them and give them the opportunity to live decently and, perhaps, even exceptionally.

After pondering Frankl's sentiment, I felt more heartened, yet slightly embarrassed that I had allowed my faith in humanity to be shaken so easily. I continued scanning through Popova's tweets, another of which quoted psychiatrist Carl Jung. It read, "The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."

Jung's statement reminds us that, yes, treating others with kindness, putting their needs before our own, reaching out to them in their time of crisis, and, you know, acting like a decent human being is morally right. These are the things that separate us from living a futile life of existing solely for ourselves. Furthermore, though, it inspires us to believe that acting in this way will warm the hearts of others and embolden them to behave similarly as well. It motivates us with the notion that our single light of kindness can ignite a roaring fire of good.

Today's morning reading reminded me that we should never lose faith in humanity — not in the aftermath of significant acts of hatred, like the attacks in Paris, and certainly not following a trivial parking lot debacle. For once we do so, evil has won. Instead, it enforced that we should elevate the goodness of others by overestimating their moral intentions and that we should continue to set an example of kindness with the hope that others will follow. So, whether it's in Paris or a parking lot, everyone, let's continue to be the light in the darkness.