It’s been strengthened by the people I’ve known.
My early boyhood in the late 1940s and 1950s was spent in Seward, a small town, surrounded by the Kenai mountains, and removed from the outside world.
After learning to read, which came relatively early in my life, I began to realize that the world wasn’t peaceful and secure like my small community, where neighbors helped one another and left their homes’ doors unlocked.
At the age of 10, sitting on our living room couch with the Encyclopedia Britannica, I read about devastating wars and strife throughout human history. I was overcome by a deep disappointment in humanity that remained with me for most of my life. I couldn’t believe other places in the world weren’t as tranquil as our idyllic town beside Resurrection Bay.
I was blessed with a loving family, and my mother made sure I received a religious background in the Lutheran Church. But even with a positive upbringing, festering within me was anger that human beings inflicted so much pain and suffering upon themselves throughout history.
I doubt my story is unique. I’m sure many of us can remember the time when our idealistic, Pollyanna view of the world was shattered—when we learned about cruelty and violence dating back to the dawn of civilization.
People told me that humanity’s aggressive nature was part of our evolution and vital to our survival throughout the ages. But that explanation didn’t offer much to temper my disillusionment.
A shifting attitude:
As I grew up, however, I continued to meet people, who along with my parents, demonstrated the good side of humanity; such as school teachers, friends of my parents, my own friends, a basketball coach, clergymen, doctors, and even some strangers.
One of the things my mom emphasized when I was growing up was to look for the good in people. I think that admonition was the reason I began finding people’s positive side. Quite simply, I was looking for it.
Through college and with some of my first employers, I was even more blessed. I had a professor who literally brought me out of severe depression and shined a light of hope on my future. Another one provided excellent tutelage in improving my writing craft, which would go on to serve me well in a range of endeavors.
One of my earlier bosses, a fisheries biologist, generously shared his knowledge about Alaska salmon management and helped me develop a keen appreciation for this critical, renewable resource.
Another boss was infinitely patient with me as I got a foothold in the oil and gas industry, which became a lifelong career in Alaska that also took me to countries across the world—the “outside world” that so frightened me as a child.
People are the same:
In my travels, I learned what I have come to believe is an immutable, universal truth: people are essentially the same the world over. Just a few examples:
In Istanbul, Turkey, I spent an idle Sunday afternoon watching families enjoying the day together, playing games and having picnics along the Bosporus Strait, the way people would on Coney Island.
On the grasslands at the southern tip of Argentina, I met sheep ranchers whose livelihoods depend upon the vagaries of weather, including Tierra del Fuego’s relentless winds, as farmers do throughout the world.
Traveling through the countryside of Poland, north of Krakow, I observed pain etched in the faces of elders whose parents lived through World War II. But there was hope written in the faces of younger generations.
Outside of Bogota, Colombia, I met a woman who operated an orange and pineapple orchard. Her husband had recently been killed by guerillas, but with the help of her brother, she was eking out a living. She offered us some tea. What struck me was that with so little, she was the kind of person who would share anything she had.
As disoriented tourists in Naples, Italy, our request for directions from one local resulted in four exuberantly helping us out—a kindness that we found throughout the country.
Once when I was quite destitute and hitchhiking across Canada without two dimes to rub together, a deli owner in Vancouver B.C. generously packed me a lunch.
At a potlatch at St. Mary’s village on the Yukon River, I witnessed the sheer joy of the people as they told epic tales of the past through song and dance. Their sense of place, of community, was uplifting. They were, as other people I observed across the world, merely happy to be together and alive.
At Rosebud, a Lakota Indian reservation in South Dakota, I felt privileged to meet some of the direct descendants of the great spiritual leader, Crazy Horse. While quite poor, the people were genuinely proud of their heritage and exuded a deep inner strength.
We have learned about people who changed history for the better; such as Jesus, Mohammed, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Madam Curie, Malala Yousafzai, even TV’s Fred Rogers. But the ones who have bolstered my faith in humanity the most are those I’ve met and known personally.
I have a friend, Ray Anderson, who served in the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam. Today he is a member of an organization that delivers wheelchairs to the Vietnamese people, some of whom are still maimed from cluster bombs dropped by the U.S. a half a century ago.
I have another friend, Linda Jay Jackson, who established an all-volunteer organization called Helping Hand for Nepal, Inc. https://www.hhnepal.org.
Over the past two decades, she has raised millions of dollars for health, education and water supply programs in this impoverished country, and has also contributed to disaster relief.
I met Sergeant Kirk Alkire (retired) a couple of years ago and was impressed by his dedication and untiring effort to honor the families of fallen soldiers by naming Gold Star Peak in the Chugach Mountains—a significant achievement.
I know people at BP with whom I worked for many years who regularly volunteer at Bean’s Café and other Anchorage social service organizations.
These are just some of the people, including my wife of 37 years, Rebekah, (who taught elementary school for nearly 25 years), and my two children, David and Emily, who have helped assuage the fear and sadness of that child long ago in Seward—a child who learned at an early age that the world wasn’t what he thought it to be.
Yes, the world is continually in turmoil.
Violence, greed, corruption, and oppression of people seem unending. A deep-seated them versus us mentality persists. The challenges we face are daunting. But my experiences over nearly three-quarters of a century convince me there is more good than evil in the world. I now have a robust and enduring faith in humanity, and I believe that is fundamental to having true faith in God, however one perceives that deity.