People are far more driven to do good by others than harm—it’s just a feeling I have. If you're looking for me to pull some statistics out of a hat about that, well, I'm afraid I can't help you. Traditionally a "the-glass-is-both-half-full-and-empty" kind of person, I have never felt comfortable being in either the optimist or pessimist categories. I see good when strangers ask how your day is going, and when children stare at you and smile just because. I see bad, well, essentially every time I read the news. Shootings, bombings, and hate crimes are what we've come to expect when we turn on the nightly news.
I have gone through two years of college now, heavy with extra-curriculars and friendships that are "social-justice" oriented. All of this study and activism had drained my cup to be more half empty than full. I figured, this must be the way the world is, half full of people who want to hurt other people, and less than half full of people trying to help.
This summer, I have interned for Opportunity Saint Paul, a program of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, which seeks to build a volunteer cohort to address systemic disparities and gaps in the infrastructure of opportunity in the city. I was initially excited to enter the position so I could do my part in helping those who are hurting in a big way. Now that my summer is almost over, I have done that, but I have also experienced the kind of good I had been losing sight of.
The other day, I called a woman about her interest in volunteering with us. I was greeted by her voicemail, which began with, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it," and ended with, "you are loved, have a blessed day." Though I did not directly speak with her, I felt comforted knowing that she was likely going about her day doing her best to do good by others. It reminded me of many other conversations I've had throughout this summer, and the emphasis people I spoke to put on their desire to give back, spread compassion, make a systemic change, and put their faith to good use.
As a religion major, I spend so much time trying to figure out what faith literally means that I forget to look around and see it in action. The people involved with Opportunity Saint Paul have helped me more than any book to understand what faith is, but also, what it is not.
Faith is not hurting the innocent, rejecting the humanities of others, or living a life of willing ignorance. Faith is, in the supposed words of John Wesley, to, "do all the good you can, by all the means for you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can." People who engage in the hatred that the media shows us in abundance are not people of faith. People of faith, whether is it a faith in a higher power, or in humanity, will continue to do the good work that has allowed humanity to flourish for as long as it has. Maybe they'll help an elderly person across the street, volunteer at a school, or leave an warm greeting in their voicemail. No matter the act, they can rest well knowing they have made someone else's glass a little more full.