April 19, 2007

Finding the Good in People

This has been a bad week when considering basic human decency. What with the severely demented mass murderer at VTech, the appalling numbers of dead in one day in Iraq, Bush's continued oburancy and his bad choices driving the never ending war, the sliminess of John Doolittle who blames his wife for the FBI raids, the crassness of the Bush Justice Department that is so politicized that even top rated interns are blacklisted from jobs while total hacks are put in place to deliver (Republican) justice, and a Supreme Court that arrogates the wisdom of the medical profession and condemns women to dangerous and perhaps deadly procedures because they want to show they "respect life", it's enough to make one wonder if the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket and people are pretty nasty creatures.

It's times like this when one is overwhelmed with the bad, being reminded of how it's okay to trust or even like our fellow human beings is essential. Today, I found a piece that helped dispel my weary cynicism on NPR in the remarkable "This I Believe" testimony by Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.

I used to share the cynicism common to many nerds: that people were frequently malicious and opportunistic. But, of course, you don't get treated well wearing a plastic pocket protector and thick, black glasses taped together, and now, I get that. Years of customer service have changed the way I think about people.

Now I believe that people are overwhelmingly trustworthy and deeply OK. I don't want to sound sanctimonious or syrupy, but for the past seven years, I've been doing full-time customer service for Craigslist, interacting with thousands of people. I see that most people share a similar moral compass: They play fair, they give each other a break and they generally get along. I see that pretty much everyone operates by that Golden Rule thing.

As Craig designed his site to be of service to others rather than trying to find the best way to strike it rich, he's built a site where he really does see that how most people operate with the sense of decency and that observation overwhelms his experience with the few who want to take to take advantage of others or don't want to play fair.

Some thoughts on his testimony:

  1. I suspect Craig is one of those people who by always being open to the good in people he comes in contact creates an environment where people feel safe in playing fair.

  2. And as Craig works with more and more people who operate with fairness, kindness and basic decency, the sheer number of people acting decently reinforces his belief that most people are decent.

How do we extend our own ability to see the good in others, thus creating the environment where people are ready to treat each other with simple kindness and decency?

Go read or listen and hopefully you'll be as warmed by his testimony as I found myself.

Posted by Mary at April 19, 2007 12:26 AM | Philosophy | Technorati links |

Thanks for the link. Ironically, I find Newmark one of the few "social web blah-blah" founders with real decency, based on things like this article:

Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist, caused lots of head-scratching Thursday as he tried to explain to a bunch of Wall Street types why his company is not interested in “monetizing” his ridiculously popular Web operation. Appearing at the UBS global media conference in New York, Mr. Buckmaster took questions from the bemused audience, which apparently could not get its collective mind around the notion that Craigslist exists to help Web users find jobs, cars, apartments and dates — and not so much to make money.

Posted by: sean at April 19, 2007 05:12 AM