The world can be a pretty good place
Ten years ago, my world began to unravel. I had followed the mantra of my generation. Go to college, get a good job, work at that until you retire. I did this in an unusual way. I joined the Navy, utilized their tuition assistance program and went to school at night to become a teacher, but I accomplished these goals nonetheless.
I had a 20-year career teaching and even had a subject matter expert position at the District Office. I envisioned myself spending another ten years in education and retiring.
I had not counted on becoming too expensive to want to keep around.
When you have tenure, they can’t fire you without cause. What they can do if you are no longer wanted, is make your life miserable by switching your school, your classes, having you sub during your prep period and irritate you in a thousand other ways.
The handwriting was on the wall, and I took early retirement.
The world of education is different than the real world
I left my job at the beginning of the Great Recession. My retirement check was too small to live on and my wife quickly went under water. We wound up struggling for five years to make enough money to meet our monthly expenses. Each month we made less and less money and got further and further behind on our bills.
And each month we received more and more angry phone calls from debt collectors. At first, the phone calls were pointed but polite. After a while, there were only threats and insults.
“Hey, dirtbag, honest people like to pay their bills!”
“I want to help you. But you have to help me too. If you can afford X amount of dollars, I’ll see if I can get my manager to agree to that.”
“We’re going to ruin your credit rating for the rest of your life.”
Strangers called our home at all hours of the day and night yelling, screaming, and threatening financial destruction. We stopped answering the phone long before that was a thing for everyone. My wife spent hours in tears. We hid from our family members we were so ashamed. We stopped visiting our neighbors. And except for necessary errands, we never left the house.
It was a nightmare. We lived in hell with no hope of relief.
I thought living this way was the most humiliating thing I’d ever experienced. I was wrong.
Real humiliation didn’t show up until the night there was a knock on the door, and there stood a sheriff’s deputy; one hand at the ready position over his weapon, and the other holding our eviction notice. We’d worked for months with the HARP program. The day before at 8:00 PM we finally received the word, we’d been denied any assistance.
Our home went to foreclosure auction the next morning, and by that evening the sheriff’s deputy arrived with the eviction notice. Now that was a humiliating moment.
We’d been lied to, taken advantage of and had our lives destroyed by total strangers.
Life is different now
It’s taken more than five years for us even to begin getting back on our feet. But during those years, I’ve seen a tremendous change in culture.
What I’ve experienced has been nothing short of amazing. Everywhere I go now; people are kind. They are kind on the phone and in emails. Strangers are willing to engage in conversation while standing in the checkout line.
I’ve seen more courteous actions just this past week than I ever saw in an entire year before.
We’re not 100 percent whole yet, and if I need an extension of a couple of days to pay a bill, I call. I am always greeted politely, and the person on the phone goes out of their way to help me.
It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a treasure. It’s precisely the way I think the world should be.
I don’t know if this new era of courtesy is a reaction to so many lives being broken over the last few years and I don’t care.
I like it when people of all genders strive to hold the door open for others. I like to shake hands with people and greet them. I like it when people smile and wave at each other for no reason. These simple things, kindnesses from strangers, make the day better.
I like to help people and I like it when they help me. After the total destruction of my life at the hands of total strangers, I am awed by how kind people are now.
The world may still be full of fear, but I don’t see so much of it acted out anymore. I certainly saw plenty of fear and anger acted out ten years ago. I know there’s a difference in the world because I see this in my life every day.
Online, I suspect that meanness, bullying, and hate are shared more often actions of courtesy and kindness. Lots of people take their cue as to what’s appropriate online from the popular media. Media posts are all about sensationalism, ratings, and ad revenue. The more brutal they are, the more people pay attention.
I have no desire to mimic that behavior. I’d rather be kind to strangers. I’d rather they be kind to me. I think more kindness makes the world a better place.
That’s exactly the kind of world I want to live in.
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