"Humans are inherently selfish, deceitful, and downright wicked," said renowned historical figure Thomas Hobbes. While some of his theories may harbor some truth, I shudder to think of the world he lived in since I maintain a little more faith in humanity: I believe in compassion.
Perhaps we are motivated by selfish interests, but one thing that is undoubtedly inherent in our nature is our hatred of suffering. Just as we don't like to endure misfortune, we hate to see others bear it, and that for many—but not all—people is the foundation of our compassion.
It wasn't until I began volunteering in my town's non-profit thrift store that I came to understand what compassion was. Working as the cashier, I interacted with all the customers, but didn't bother to get to know them. Then one day a Hispanic woman came in and couldn't speak much English. She didn't have much money, either, and was relieved she could afford the entirety of her fourteen-dollar purchase. Since I was trying to get rid of an excess of reusable bags that were donated to the shop, I put her items in one of those. Her eyes lit up as if I had handed her the most precious thing in the world, and from what I understood of her broken Spanglish, she had never had so much as a reusable bag before.
Being complicit in creating her joy—over something I considered so trivial—opened my eyes to how meaningful it was to help someone else, even in the smallest way. With a new view on my position at the shop, I got the know the regulars better. There's the elderly gentlemen always looking for history books because he dreamed of being a history teacher—but the draft for Vietnam had other plans for him. There's the woman actually from Vietnam who's always inquiring whether we're having our 50% off sale, but that's because she buys things to send back to her not-so-well-off family across the Pacific. And then there's the little girl who always insists to her mother that she'll pay for things herself, even though she's too young to know that tearing a dollar bill in half won't exactly equal 50 cents.
Meeting these people, I've come to sympathize with their wants and woes. I've found that everyone has a story, and the greatest gift they could ever give is their willingness to share it. Conveniently enough, I'm an aspiring writer, and discovering my sympathy for others has made me realize that I need to share their stories. I've been inspired by these real people living real lives, and I can only hope that my future stories will inspire other people to help others, too.
So take that Hobbes, who scoffed at the notion that humans could be generous! We were born with big hearts, and in them there's room enough to harbor love for others. Compassion isn't pity, it's understanding. It's not something that's acquired so much as something we've always had within ourselves, something that blooms when we hear another's story.