As much as I tried to block out everyone around me with my huge headphones on with some loud Timbaland song playing, the man tried to talk to me. He spoke, waiting for me to respond, and when I didn't, he spoke louder. I took off my headphones unwillingly, not in a good enough mood to talk to strangers in downtown Salt Lake. The man asked me various questions about myself: where I was coming from, where I was going, how did I like the U, why did I leave BYU, what do I want to do with my life. He told me about his niece my age and his brother who lived nearby, all with the sweetest smile on his face. And I found my anger, anxiety, and frustration slowly draining. My train home finally arrived and I got up to board the train. The man called out "God bless you, and you just keep working hard. It will be ok. Good luck with everything." It was all I could do to stop from bursting into tears on the train. And I had no problem with doing it as soon as I got off the train. Who the heck was this guy and why did he know that I so desperately needed someone to tell me that?
A few weeks ago, I had my job interview at Build A Bear Workshop and one of the questions that kept coming up on my interview questionnaire was "Do you believe people are inherently good?" I asked my manager about it and she read me a section of the employee handbook where it says that one of the company's core beliefs is that people are inherently good and that it why good customer service and strong relationships are so important to the business. I checked all the right answers just to get through the interview but for the next few days, that question stuck with me. Do I believe people are inherently good?
I haven't really come up with a yes/no answer yet but I thought a lot about how most people I know, particularly my generation, are inherently acting in their own self-interest. Which can mean a lot of different things but for my age group in particular, it doesn't necessarily mean "good" things. I'm at the age where everything is a competition: School, work, dating, friendships. Life is survival of the fittest and you can't expect to amount to anything if you aren't the best at what you do. You can't be the top in your class unless there are contenders below you who didn't perform as well. You can't get the best job unless you're more qualified and efficient than the other contenders. You can't have the best significant other unless you're the world's idea of Prince/Princess Charming and there are other contenders that are less desirable than you. Life at this age is pure competition! Which means there are brutal and unfair ways that people fight to the top. Which makes it pretty hard to believe that people are inherently good. If people were so good, wouldn't they do their best to lift up everyone instead of pushing down others to bring themselves to the top?
So survival of the fittest is all fine and dandy. It's what keeps life evolving and progressing right? One thing I've noticed is that my attitude towards this selfish competition is becoming more and more relaxed. Life is all about me right now. My problems, my dilemmas, just ME. I've been trying in past months to be a little more selfless but I justified my selfish tendencies by saying that I need to be selfish during this time of my life so I can have the resources to be selfless in the future. I tell myself it's ok to just focus on myself for these next few years because I'll have plenty of time in the future and be more prepared to be a better citizen of life when the "me years" are done.
Pretty stupid right?
I didn't realize this until the man on the train took time out of his own day to be selfless for a very selfish person like me. He was the person I didn't deserve in my life right now but I desperately needed to remind me what's really important. Because trying to be the best at work and trying to be the best in school certainly isn't it. Being more aware of people going through hardships around me and being more receptive to their needs, however, is ESSENTIAL.
Thank you random homeless man for telling me that things will work themselves out if I just work my hardest. Thank you for being selfless when I'm sure you have more reasons than I do to be selfish and egotistical. Thank you for being an example of inherently good people when society gives me plenty of examples of inherently selfish people. And thanks for the remind that I am an inherently self-interested person who needs to be a person more interested in others.