I was driving up I-85 to Raleigh one summer night with my windows down to let in the cool air. My car radio was blasting rock and roll as I sang along. I was on my way to visit one of my buddies for the weekend, when suddenly I heard a helicopter. It was really loud, like it was hovering right over the top of my car. I turned off the radio and stuck my head out the window. It wasn’t a helicopter, I had a flat tire, and at 70 miles per hour the loose rubber against pavement was making a tremendous wop-wop-wop sound. I pulled onto the shoulder.
It was the late 1970s, I was in college, and my hair, blonde and curly, hung down below my shoulders. I had just pulled all the luggage out of my trunk in order to reach my spare tire, when a black pick-up truck pulled over in front of my car. Two guys jumped out of the cab and dashed over to me. The first to arrive cried out, “Oh, hell, Ricky, it’s a DUDE!” I laughed and thanked them for stopping, then said I had everything under control. I suspect, out of embarrassment, and the need to save face, Ricky shoved me out of the way, and grabbed my tire. He said, “We stopped; we’re changing the tire.” Five minutes of awkward silence passed as I watched them work swiftly, then they left as I reloaded my trunk.
I share this story, partly because it’s funny, but mostly because I think it represents how helpful people generally are. Now, I’ve had car trouble on other occasions when the people who stopped to help me, were not lured in by my long blonde locks; they just genuinely wanted to help. The point is, I see people helping other people all the time — in all sorts of situations. It is my sincere belief that nearly all people, despite what’s in the news every day, are good people. With very few exceptions, the average person is a giving, nonjudgmental, peace lover.
Yet, there are so many books, movies, and television shows, depicting a dystopian future where the majority of people are evil, looting, raping, enslaving others, and worse. Many of these books and movies, like 1984, and The Hunger Games are written to warn us what will happen if our tyrannical governments continue to grow. Others, like The Walking Dead, The Road, and The Time of the Wolf imply that without government, people will become ruthless predators preying on each other. The message of these narratives is clear, if government breaks down people will devolve into savagery.
I don’t believe it for a minute; if society collapses, people will strive to come together even more, and do everything in their power to keep civilization going. However, movies and books about people helping each other rebuilding homes, planting gardens, and sharing stored goods, is not nearly as thrilling as having to hide from your neighbors because they will eat you.
I believe the Christmas Truce of World War I, where British and German soldiers on the front line refused to fight and instead played soccer together for a day, is more indicative of what people are truly like. Individuals don’t go to war against each other — their governments do. And, in order to make war palatable, governments create lies and propaganda to induce their citizens to fight.
We are naturally motivated to help others because we have empathy for people. We have all experienced hardship, or will, and it is because we know how it feels to be vulnerable that we want to help others in need.
The average person gives of his or her time and treasure generously. Some, of course, with a little nudging. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, Americans gave $410.02 billion in 2017 which was a 5.2% increase over 2016. NPT goes on to report that approximately 77 million Americans, 30% of the adult population, volunteer their time, talents, and energy, to making a difference. It reports that the top 4 national volunteer activities are fundraising or selling items to raise money (36.0%); food collection or distribution (34.2%); collecting, making, or distributing, clothing, crafts ,or other goods (26.5%); and mentoring youth (26.2%).
I suspect these numbers are too low and don’t account for cash donations to individuals, and hours volunteered that seem self-serving, such as, working with youth if the volunteers’ children are involved (i.e., coaching sports, scout leadership, school lunchroom, and classroom help, and so forth).
It’s true that prosperity makes people more giving. In times of economic recession people give less money, but still give time. It seems that our governments should be doing everything in their power to enable more wealth creation. Governments, however, don’t create wealth, they take it; but they can create an environment that is conducive to prosperity by meddling less in the economy. But, politicians don’t want to do that because that is where they get their power.
Evil people are rare, although they do tend to be attracted to positions of power which is why so many of these movies predict the rise of tyranny. It seems that too often, when government tries to fix things, it only makes things worse. People have already figured out how to get along with each other in good times and bad. Perhaps the solution to creating more good times — and even more giving and volunteering — is simply less government.