Tuesday, July 05, 2016
COLUMN: Human Nature
When I walked into the gas station the other day, I wasn't expecting to spend the rest of the week pondering the construct of human nature. I just wanted a doughnut.
A few years ago, I dated a girl who was a devout Christian, and she once took me to a church service that stuck with me for a long while -- and for all the wrong reasons. The sermon that day came from 2 Timothy, one of the pastoral letters supposedly written by the Apostle Paul prior to his death. The focus was on 2 Timothy 2, wherein Paul warns Timothy to beware false teachers, especially a couple of guys named Hymenaeus and Philetus (and you KNOW you're having a bad day when the Bible calls you out by name.) Apparently these two heretics were telling folks that the resurrection had already occurred, and their false claims were destroying the faith of some followers.
"This was really bad," the minister explained. "Because you know what would happen if you believed that the resurrection had come and gone and you hadn't been saved? You would immediately turn to sin. We all would. If we knew there was no heavenly reward waiting for us, what's to stop us all from becoming sinners?"
Umm... maybe basic human decency?
Call me naive if you want, but I'd like to think that my moral compass is strong enough to avoid a change in character just because I lost a free trip to paradise. This minister's working theory seems to be that we're all intrinsically awful and only behaving ourselves so we can get cake and ice cream after dinner. Sorry, but I just don't buy that. If I'm out driving around and someone cuts me off in traffic, I don't immediately think, "I'M GOING TO MURDER THAT PERSON... oh, but wait. I want to go to heaven, so I can't. Darn it!"
I firmly believe that we all have the potential to be innately good, regardless of faith or incentive or time eternal for good behavior. Of course, I suppose you could argue that if the resurrection HAD happened, all of the innately good people should have been Raptured on up -- and therefore, if you were left behind, then maybe you ARE evil. Clearly, this is a debate best left for theologians, bad Nicholas Cage movies, or, at the very least, those of you who require more than one hand to count the Sunday services you've been to in the past decade.
But that minister DID accomplish one thing: I left church that day thinking long and hard about how I live my life. Am I a good person? Do others perceive me as good? I'm certainly not perfect by any stretch, but at the very least, I try to live my days in a positive manner. When I shuffle off this mortal coil kicking and screaming, I really just want people to go, "Oh, THAT guy? He was a good dude." In this short life we get to live, is there any better epitaph to have? "Here lies Shane. He was a good dude." I'd be perfectly okay with that.
But here's what I discovered this week: You might perceive yourself to be the most decent person alive, but there's no guarantee others feel the same way. There could be people out there right now who think that you're a super jerk, and you'd have no idea. I sure didn't... until I walked into the gas station the other day.
There are umpteen convenience stores between my house and the office, and I try to frequent at least one of them every morning. My favorite is a few blocks out of my way, but they sometimes have doughnuts in the morning, so it's totally worth it. The staff there are nice as can be, and it's normally a pleasant way to ease into the morning. But when I walked in the other day, it was clear I was interrupting the training session of a new employee. As I made my way to caffeine, I noticed the clerk talking to the trainee under her breath, but it was pin-drop quiet in the place and, unbeknownst to her, I could hear every word:
"Here's the deal with THIS guy. He comes in all the time and just buys one coffee, one Coke, and one doughnut. Whatever you do, don't bother telling him about the specials because he is NOT interested and acts all put out when you do."
I looked behind me for the jerk who must have followed me in. Strangely, there was no jerk. Even without caffeine, I quickly realized that to see the jerk in question, I would have needed a mirror. I'M the jerk. Mr. Acts-All-Put-Out. Me. ME? Do I do that? Really?
"Excuse me?!" I wanted to yell. "I'm Shane, and I'm a good dude!"
Instead, I just walked out, scratching my head. I suppose it makes sense, though. I try my best to be a good guy, but I'm certainly not a prompt guy. If my co-workers had to write my epitaph, it would likely be "Here lies Shane... in five minutes when he decides to show up." The only thing worse than an irked boss is the notion of a caffeine-free workday, so when I pull into that gas station, I'm usually in a full-sprint dash. I like that store, but I've also joked in the past that it should be re-named "Slo-Mart," because every time I'm in a rush, that's when clerks will be chatty, lines will be long, and random people will come out of the woodwork to stand in front of me and order 37 Powerball tickets.
So yes, when I'm in a rush and I get to the counter, the last thing I want to hear is, "Just so you know, we've got a great special on these Cokes. if you buy one of them at regular price, you can get blah blah blah blah." Shut up shut up shut up. I'm a nice guy, I swear, but if you don't swipe my card and let me run out of here, I'm gonna be super late to work and get majorly chewed out. That's what my brain always says. My mouth says, "No thank you." But apparently the rest of my face strikes a compromise between the two that clearly indicates, "I am acting all put out."
Maybe I'm not as good of a guy as I think I am. I now know one gas station clerk who doesn't think too highly of me. (And pity her, she's about to get killed by kindness.) Maybe I really AM an awful person just pretending to be good in case someone (or Someone) is watching. But no-one's perfect, and even good guys get stressed out when they're running late for work. If anything's guilty of being intrinsically awful, it's my alarm clock. THAT thing is headed straight for H-E-double-hockey-sticks.