Making the choice to believe in people, or: Why I choose to be “naïve”

Guest post by Sariah

Becoming cynical and afraid of my surroundings is not worth sheltering myself from the world. (Photo by: Federico RacchiCC BY 2.0)
When someone cuts me off in traffic, I imagine that they’re in a terrible hurry and didn’t see me. When a young man asks to use my cell phone in a bad part of town, I hand it over and ask if he needs anything else. When I’m taking a Greyhound bus ride and the bus is half full of freshly released prisoners, I always happen to end up right in the middle of their group of seats.

I tell people about the choices I make and I am almost always met with disbelief and fear. They say, “That man could have run off with your phone!” or “How can you feel safe by yourself in that situation?” I am often called naïve.

I have lived in low-income areas. Bars on windows are not new to me. Nor are police sirens, crime, or poverty. But I won’t let that change my world.

I could walk around all day and refuse every request made of me. I could always be on alert and ready to defend myself. I could keep pepper spray on my keys and my phone pre-programmed to 911 as I walk down side streets at night. I know the “right” and “safe” choices to make, but I choose to keep living the way I do.

Living in fear is exhausting. I have lived that way, and I have seen it destroy my grandmother. She is constant fear that someone will attack her or anyone in our family. She lives a “safe” and “well-protected” life. She parks the car under streetlights. She doesn’t talk to strangers. By society’s standards, she takes preventative steps to avoid tragedy. If she were to ever be a victim, no one would be able to say it’s her fault.

However, if someone were to run off with my phone, or ask for my change and not use it on bus fare, or lure me down a side street and attack me, it would be my fault. At least, that’s how other people might see it. I wouldn’t though.

I choose every day to believe in people. I choose to believe that people are inherently good and kind. I believe that the strangers I encounter in “dangerous” situations are no more dangerous than strangers I would encounter in “safe” situations. And believe me, this way of living can be just as exhausting as living in fear. It is much easier to say that I don’t have any money or my phone is dead than help someone who might need it.

But why is it easier to believe that someone is evil than it is to help out a fellow human? So what if they are using me? Who cares that they could be lying? If I could help one person or brighten up one person’s day, then that’s all that matters to me.

I could be taken advantage of multiple times a day. I can be called naïve. I might live a riskier life than I should. But I choose to see the best in people. I choose to hope that if I ever needed help, there would be someone around just as naïve as me that would help. I choose to believe that we live in a good world.

Is it worth living in fear in an attempt to say as safe as possible? Or do you refuse to succumb to cynicism lest you cut yourself off from the world?

Comments on Making the choice to believe in people, or: Why I choose to be “naïve”

  1. Whenever someone cuts me off on the road or does something similar I always think of reasons why they might be in a hurry. In fact, anytime someone does something annoying I start spouting reasons why they might’ve done that, including “maybe they’re just a jerk”, but I know it could easily be that their boss just gave them a last minute project, their kid was puking all night, or they have a splitting headache. I never really thought about this habit, but it keeps me happier and it’s kind of fun imagining all of the possibilities in the world.

    • I started doing this when that guy I married starts freaking out (dude’s got a serious case of road rage). I’m like, “Hey, maybe they have to poop real bad. Maybe they’re trying to get away from a another driver that’s harassing them. Or maybe they’re rushing to see their dying parent in the hospital.” It’s better than just assuming everyone is an asshole.


        That guy I’m marrying also has road rage, and I haven’t found anything that calms him down, but I’m going to try that one! It might only work the first time when it’s unexpected, but even once is good.

        • Oh! And the thing that Aaron found worked for him when drivers are driving toooooo sloooooowwwwwly is that he tells himself that they have a goldfish in the backseat, and they need to drive slowly or the water will slosh everywhere and the fish will die. Thereby giving him that little amount of compassion needed not to just LOSE HIS SHIT. Save the goldfish, save the world!

          • Ummm … I may use this on myself. I am good with the people who cute me off and such (mostly thinking car-ma will get them. LOL), most of the time. But slow drivers … may drive me nuts… lets all save the goldfish of the world!

      • When I (voluntarily) took an anger management class, they told us to imagine that people who cut us off or were being general asshole drivers probably had a bad case of diarrhea. Literally one of the techniques we learned!

    • Whenever I see someone speeding or driving like an ass I immediately assume they’re afflicted with an urgent case of diarrhea and they must reach a toilet ASAP. You really can’t get mad at them for something like that, poor things.

  2. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m from a small town, where people weren’t so awesome, and now I live in NYC in a not great part of town. I find in my neighborhood, and others like it, I’m completely like you. I’m trusting, and when the neighbor needs something, I invite him in, and so far I’ve been lucky, because people have been totally wonderful and it’s paid off.

    I’m less trusting though when I’m on the subway, something about being underground with that many other people makes me into a crazy person. “Can you believe that lady slammed her purse into me?!” Even knowing people didn’t intend anything evil, I can’t see the good in them. I’m trying to fix it though. In honor of the man who saw me struggling with my groceries last night, who then offered me his seat unprompted, and then who stood for 4 more stops, I’m going to assume others are kind. I’m ready to learn to pay it forward underground the way I do above ground!

    Adding an edit, I’m currently in a management position, and unfortunately am having to learn where to draw the line in making other people’s excuses. It isn’t ideal for me as a person, but in order to keep my project on track , it has to happen.

    • Something about NYC makes everyone, however nice, put their hackles up eventually. The subway especially will do it. A friend of mine has a way of coping with the insanity of rush-hour (packed) trains: look at everyone in the car, and try to find something you love about them, even if it’s superficial. I love that girl’s smile. I love that that guy is reading an actual book. I love that this person moved over so I can hold the pole. Et cetera. It helps, particularly on the days when I want to stab everyone in the eye. ^.^;;;

  3. I definitely live in a similar way to you, although I am still working on giving people the benefit of the doubt while driving. Sometimes it feels good to get angry instead, so until I achieve peace while driving, I remind myself that I have made bad decisions while driving too, and that I should forgive them and move on.

    I lived a more sheltered life than you, in a safe friendly neighborhood, and went to a small college where anyone I ran into while walking at night on campus or in the small town, odds are I would know the person. So on my part some of it is genuine naivety and not some I work hard to do. For me the hardest part can be defending it to other people, and reminding myself that not everyone lives the same way I do.

    When I was visiting some cousins in Wisconsin, we were waiting to be picked up in downtown Milwaukee after a festival. A man came up to me and asked to use my cell phone. Without really thinking I gave it to him. My cousin freaked out, asking what would have happened if he just walked off with it, and I said I would have gotten a new phone. It just was not a big deal. A stranger asks for help, and I agree. I got the cell phone back, which despite circumstances seemed much more likely than the alternative.

    As for why I don’t carry things like pepper spray, or knives, or concealed weapons, I feel like if everyone expects the worst, the worst is what will happen. Believing in people and humanity seems like it would make people live up to that belief. Lot’s of people disagree with me, including many people who are close to me. And perhaps it will be my fault if I’m not armed in a dangerous situation, but that just doesn’t seem as likely as being just fine.

    • “As for why I don’t carry things like pepper spray, or knives, or concealed weapons, I feel like if everyone expects the worst, the worst is what will happen. Believing in people and humanity seems like it would make people live up to that belief.”

      YES! I love this! Humanity is more than capable of rising to that challenge!

      • I love this sentiment but it is -incredibly- naive. Really bad things happen to anyone regardless of optimism or preparedness. You can still believe in people -and- be prepared for the worst. I have renter’s insurance but that doesn’t mean I expect to be robbed or that I put 30 locks on my door! I don’t carry any of these self defense items, but I do know self defense and get a refresher course every few years.

        • I agree with you, but I think that our society has a really screwed up notion of what constitutes “reasonable risk.” Knowing self-defense is a great defense to have and is extremely reasonable. But carrying around knives and pepper spray might be too much fear. Obviously this depends on where you live though – there are places where such things are needed.

          • I feel like being armed in some way allows me to be more trusting and put myself out there more.
            It’s my plan B.

  4. I feel like this is a noble outlook but much, much harder to maintain once you’ve been taken advantage of a time or two (at least, in a traumatic enough way.) I don’t think the alternative is living in fear, but I’m not about to leave my valuables visible in the car ever again 😛

    • It is absolutely difficult to maintain this outlook after you’ve been taken advantage of in a traumatic way, believe me! I guess the biggest thing I wanted people to take from this is that you can take precautions, but don’t live your life in fear and cynicism.

  5. I agree with your way of thinking. And I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. And to those who tell me I am naïve, I explain that I believe in Karma, and if the person asking for change is a liar, that will come back on them. But it won’t come back on me for not helping someone who is truly in need.

  6. I am definitely in the category of “mid-line” when it comes to stuff like this. I grew up in an okay neighborhood of a small city. Not the best neighborhood, but definitely not the worst. Nonetheless, I still lived in a city and grew up knowing when to just keep walking or when to stop and help someone. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, because like you said, it’s exhausting living in fear. There’s no point to it, and no matter what, you’re chances of being the victim of a crime haven’t changed.

    When I made the decision to move to another small city, people asked me if I was afraid of being mugged or told me to be careful. I look at those people point blank and say “what’s going to happen is going to happen and all I can do is keep going.” Life isn’t going to stop and say sorry. Might as well try and make it as cheerful and helpful for myself and others while I’m going on my merry way.

  7. I kind of feel like this is the sort of belief you can only hold if you carry a lot of privilege, to be honest.

    For some of us, being aware of potential danger and taking the caution required to make ourselves feel safer (which, I would like to distinguish, is not *necessarily* the same as “living in fear”) is a necessity, not a choice.

    I mean, there are degrees of this – like, sure, I’ve given cash to the guy at the bus stop who swears he lost his wallet and he’s stranded 2+ hours from home with no means to pay for a bus or train ticket. I’ve let someone borrow my phone to make a call. But there’s a pretty big difference between that and putting myself in a situation where there is a reasonable risk that I could be harmed and simply trusting that people are good and kind enough not to do so.

    I hope I’m not coming across as confrontational here or anything. I think it’s sweet to think so well of others, but I also feel like this post doesn’t address the reality that it is a luxury to be able to do so.

    • I agree that there is a difference between living in fear and making yourself feel safe.

      Carrying pepper spray doesn’t mean you need to freak out and spray it on anyone that approaches but sometimes bad things happen to good people, and I’d rather have a plan b for that scenario.

      I don’t live somewhere I need to take intense precautions but I make judgement calls person by person, rather than fear everyone or fear no one.

    • I appreciate your perspective. I’d add, though, that it’s a strange irony of American culture that some of the most privileged among us are also the most likely to ‘live in fear.’ Most of my white male middle class colleagues in a suburban job were some of the most fearful folks I’ve ever met, constantly freaking out on my behalf for living in Big Bad Baltimore City.

      It is also a privilege to choose to trust others, but sometimes that is anti-racist, anti-classist work and it’s important to participate.

    • I was actually thinking about that as I wrote this. I wondered, “What if I’m able to get away with living like this because I am a young, white woman?”

      There’s definitely a difference between taking precaution and living in fear. I still lock my doors at night and check the backseat before I get in the car. I don’t leave my drinks unattended when I go out. I’ve just chosen to not let the fear of the past or the possibility of danger get in the way of my life. Abuse of all forms is a memory, not something I learned in school. Assault has been a thing in my past. Low-income apartment complexes are my reality. Instead of letting it destroy me into a cynical and negative person, I choose to survive and give people the benefit of the doubt.

      I don’t think you’re being confrontational. I appreciate someone saying it, especially because it was something I was thinking. Do you have any advice on how to find a balance?

      • I think this is a very important distinction. I also take normal, rational precautions to keep myself safe, but I don’t avoid risk at all costs, because that would make my life so limited. I moved to Chicago a few years and was definitely worried about the dangers of living in a big city where I didn’t know anyone. But what was the alternative–staying in my small hometown with no opportunities? It was a chance I had to be willing to take.

    • Some of the most trusting & generous people I know grew up & lived most of their lives dirt poor, marginalized, & with nothing. Some of the most fearful, defensive, & least trusting people I’ve known were the most privileged & wealthy. *shrug*

      Taking caution in dangerous surroundings can be balanced with having faith in common humanity too.

    • I totally agree with this. I want to believe the best of people. I want to believe that no-one means me harm. And I want to believe that if something does happen, the police will believe me instead of the person who did me wrong. But I can’t. I just can’t. It hasn’t held out for me in life experience. And frankly, considering that a man with a gun and a belief about my ethnic group just walked into two institutions last week and killed three people, believing he could know and kill “my kind” on sight, it makes it very, very hard to believe the best of anyone, especially people I am told by American culture won’t hurt me. (The police here especially — they are not kind to queer folk, people of colour, or to women.)

      So yes. There is privilege here. And it is stark for those of us who do not have it. That’s not to say that the OP’s viewpoint isn’t valid. But it’s impossible to be something everyone can espouse. The world is much, much harsher for some people than others, and presuming that others are not safe is not just paranoia — it is frequently born out of painful experience, and proven again and again.

  8. I don’t particularly live in fear, in fact I can’t remember the last time I was actually afraid (aside from someone cutting me off in traffic). I give people the benefit of the doubt more often than not, but that doesn’t mean putting yourself at risk. Instead of giving change, I’d buy them some food somewhere close by, or offer them some of the produce I just bought at the store (90% of the time when I drive and encounter someone begging for money I’ve just been to the grocery store). Most of the time they appreciate it, but of course there are those that get pissed and say they just want cash. Oh, darn. I don’t carry it (not out of fear-just out of I never go to the bank or atm and get cash out because I never need to).
    When people drive dangerously, sure they might have a “reason” but it is never enough of one to put everyone else in danger. I don’t get bent out of shape about it, but I don’t make excuses in my head for them either.
    I live in an urban area and am frequently downtown by myself at night. I’m not afraid, but I’m also not walking up and down alleys just to save a few minutes on my stroll. Besides the fact that we have tons of bars downtown and generally the alley-ways are rife with regurgitated alcohol and urine. gross.
    No one has ever asked to borrow my phone, but I’d likely call the number for them before just handing away my phone to a stranger. If they really need to make the call, they wouldn’t mind it.
    Being cautious doesn’t mean living in fear- far from it. It gives me more confidence about the choices I make and more freedom to help or connect with others without risking my own or anyone else’s safety.

    • I also never carry cash and try to offer to buy food. Sadly I offer to buy them food less often these days because, as a grown up, I’m usually too rushed to have time. But at least once I bought someone claiming to be waiting for foodstamps an entire cart of groceries because, well, worst case scenario I was being scammed to buy two kids (they were with her) a healthy dinner when she didn’t really need me to. I just don’t consider that a loss.

      And please, please let people use your phone. Pay phones just don’t exist anymore. More than once my neck has been saved by a stranger with a skeptical look handing me their phone so I could call my boyfriend(now husband) for help.

  9. Thanks for this. I have a similar statement I say to myself regarding interactions with people – unless I have evidence to the contrary, I generally believe that people say what they mean and mean what they say. It’s so much easier than worrying that someone has said something just to irritate me, or that they are complimenting me but don’t “really mean it”, etc.

  10. I think it’s a cost/benefit thing – I don’t want the cost of being in fear all the time, so sometimes I’ll get scammed (or whatever) because I wasn’t being overly suspicious ALL THE TIME. Being afraid all the time sounds exhausting. On the flip side you could say that (for example) the cost of taking the next bus does not outweigh the benefit of being home sooner but being surrounded by former prisoners during your ride.

    • The former prisoner thing happens just about every time I take the Greyhound, no matter the day of the week or time of day. There’s really no way to gauge it. I usually take it for trips from where I’m living now back to my home town and there is one stop on the way. That stop is where the prisoners released that day get picked up. It’s usually only one or two, but one day it was almost a whole bus full!

  11. I think a lot of this is perspective. I came from rural poverty and currently live in a low income neighborhood in DC. Because of what I grew up with I don’t view poor as scary or “sketchy”. I constantly hear people who came from middle class up bringing refer to poor areas and people as “sketchy” because they are afraid. Usually the word “sketchy” is thrown around without anything to actually be afraid of. I don’t really think it’s naive but a better way to view the world.

    • I agree that a lot of it is perspective and perception. I live on the edge of a lower income area near a university, and people call my street “sketchy” and ask why I would live there. According to the crime maps, there are actually more muggings and thefts across the river in the “safe” neighborhood where it costs more to live! No, all my neighbors aren’t students so it doesn’t “seem” as safe, but it’s actually safer.

      Also, if you pay attention to the people on the street rather than ignore them, you start to see familiar faces. I used to be a little freaked out when I would hear people yelling in the middle of the street. But after paying attention for a bit, I realized it’s just some teenagers goofing off in normal teenage ways, and they live around the corner. I did that shit, too, when I was their age. (Wow, that makes me sound old.) A little familiarity goes a long way for me.

  12. I find it so much easier to live life believing the best of people; otherwise you just end up being angry all the time, possibly with no foundation. I’ve never rowed with a friend because I’ve never read overly negative things into their actions, and I’ve seen too many people argue all because one person decided to put the most negative interpretation on something trivial (‘She ignored me in the street!!’ Uhm, maybe she didn’t see you? Maybe that’s more likely than that she suddenly decided to blank you for no reason?)

    So far, I’ve never knowingly been made a chump of by trusting people… one time I nearly snapped at a friend because it looked like she hadn’t invited me to her party. But luckily before I did, it just turned out she’d asked a rather flakey other friend to tell me about the party and they’d forgotten to tell me. So, yet again, simple explanation.

  13. It’s a nice sentiment, but as somebody with pretty crazy social anxiety and moderate agoraphobia, it is somewhat unattainable for me. Living in fear sucks, yeah, but there’s only so much justification I can make for the jerk who catcalls me the one time I’m able to leave the house by myself, or the guy who speeds up to match my pace when I’m walking. I’d never judge anybody for choosing to think the best of people, but sometimes it’s less a choice and more a pressing phobia. Food for thought when discussing the fearful.

    • Of course! I don’t have social anxiety or agoraphobia and I know that’s a whole other ballgame compared to my depression and anxiety. I hope I didn’t make you feel alienated or bad about your phobia.

  14. I think I’m pretty middle of the road here. I’ll give people change if I have some and think I can get it out without exposing myself to having my wallet stolen (usually the panhandlers around here have the sense to allow for an extra large personal bubble when asking a woman to fish through her purse) because at the end of the day I’m going to be out the same amount of money if they’re using it for what they say they’re using it for or not. I’ve never had a stranger ask to use my phone, but I don’t think I’d do that, because if they did steal it I’d actually be out something of value and be put through a lot more inconvenience, especially since I have no landline so I’d even have trouble dealing with insurance companies and police reports without a phone number. I apparently have a sign that says “librarian” on my head, so I’m used to random people asking me questions anywhere I go and tend to assume that a stranger who says hello to me on the street is going to ask me for directions somewhere. But I don’t know whether that guy who walked up and put his arm around me was just going to invade my personal space while asking an innocent question or if he was going to try to steal my purse or assault me in some form, because I didn’t wait to find out before I started yelling and booked it into the nearest place of business.

  15. I am the same way, and most of the time I don’t even bother to help other people understand. I just am what I am, and people can think I’m as dumb as I want. I’d rather be dumb than change who I am.

  16. A nice sentiment but I believe it can be taken to far. I will happily let people use my phone, I give money to the dude at the bus stop. When I lived in town I used to buy the homless people who lived in the park across the road a pizza every week but that faith or kindness or whatever you want to see it as doesn’t blind me to the fact it is not all safe out there. I have been attacked. I was waiting at midnight, alone, out the front of work for my lift home when a car started circling the block, the bloke driving staring at me the lone 19 year old on a dark street in the middle of the night. I got away no worries because of one thing, I was aware of my surroundings. By the time he parked in a lane off the street and tried to sneak up on me from behind I had my scissors out of my bag (I had been at uni all day so had all sorts of stuff with me) and was ready and waiting for him ready to defend myself. That awarness and the willingness to defend myself is what saved me from who knows what sort of attack. We had a Mexican standoff, in the end he obviously decided I was more trouble than it was worth and left. I never did and after that sstill don’t live in fear, quite the opposite in fact but we do have instincts, self preservation is one of them and it is not something I will ever ignore because it has saved me from attack more than once.

  17. I don’t give money to panhandlers, but a woman approached me in a grocery store parking lot the other day and spun a pretty gut-wrenching story about getting kicked out of her home, running low on gas, not having a place to stay, etc., and had a poor little dog in her car to boot. She didn’t outright ask for money, but I gave her $20 to get some gas, and I just about kicked myself as I walked away for fear that I got swindled.

    Sometimes it’s hard to tell when someone’s lying, but I figured if she was telling the truth, then it was probably the crappiest day of her life and it’s worth 20 bucks to make it a little bit better.

  18. I don’t give money to panhandlers anymore. I don’t offer to buy them food, either, anymore, because I’ve been spit on and sweared at one time too many for offering that instead of booze/drug money. I don’t let anyone use my phone, because the last time I did the person who needed desperately to call their “child’s daycare” actually used my phone to call the married man she was secretly sleeping with and his wife proceeded to stalk-call my phone afterwards until my technologically challenged ass figured out how to block incoming calls. The last person in a parking lot that I gave money to was a nicely dressed woman with a bible in her purse who told me a heartbreaking tale about how her husband was waiting on a kidney transplant and that she’d just got the call that he needed to go to the hospital and the ATM had swallowed her card and her gas light was on. I gave her all the money I had, which meant that I didn’t get to purchase lunch that day and had to work on an empty stomach. Three weeks later she came up to me in a nearby parking lot, visibly drunk this time, and told me the same bullshit story.

    I’ve been poor, lived in bad neighborhoods, and currently live in a city that is pretty overrun with crime and violence. You really can’t even roll your window down in the parking lot of a gas station to enjoy the breeze while someone you’re with runs inside for a pack of smokes without at least one person coming up to your window to ask for money; if you do it at night you are liable to be robbed. I time my errands (especially if they involve an ATM) so that I’m not usually leaving the house after dark by myself to go anywhere because it really just isn’t very safe. I don’t consider this “living in fear” so much as I do “taking common sense precautions so as not to end up a statistic.” I don’t carry a gun out of the house, but I have pepper spray, and been glad I had it more than once.

    It’s nice to go through life assuming that other people are kind and good. I don’t necessarily assume that everyone I meet is bad and evil…but I don’t take foolish risks, either, and I work too hard for my money to give it to someone else so they can indulge a habit. Sometimes I’m sad for the old me who would give money to bums and who would go out of her way to help anyone no matter what…except that old me got sucked dry by an endless parade of users and the callus that I’ve built up is as much a defense mechanism that helps me keep my energy intact as anything else. What works for me does not work for everyone, though, and everyone has to come to their own conclusions about how they’re going to interact with the world around them.

    • I too have encountered the exact same panhandler with the exact same story more than once. The first time we gave him all the cash we had (about $20) and the second time I was furious that he’d swindled me in the past. I’d love to help out those who are actually in need, but I have since learned that it’s pretty impossible to tell who is ACTUALLY in need and who’s trying to make a quick buck off a sucker. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  19. Thank you so much for saying this. I try to live this way too – taking reasonable precautions of course, but I make a conscious decision not to live in fear. What I find interesting is that the crime rate has decreased considerably since the 1970s. But because we hear so much more about dangers in the media than we did then, we are more paranoid than ever. I recently said to a friend that I hope to be a “free-range parent” and she was absolutely incredulous. I mean, obviously I am not going to take stupid risks with my kids’ welfare and well-being, but I don’t want my children to grow up cooped up indoors the way I did. Two decades later, it continues to have an enormously negative impact both on my life and my brother’s life. That is not a legacy I want to pass down.

    To this I have to add the caveat that some places are more dangerous than others, and you genuinely need to take that into account when determining how proactive to be. But it’s easy to become overly paranoid these days.

    Your expectations of others can play into it. It if you set high expectations, people will be more likely to live up to them. If you set low expectations, people will be more likely to live down to them. I have experienced this again and again. So that guy you gave your cell phone to, who knows? Maybe he *was* planning to steal it. But by showing concern, asking him if he needs anything else, that shows that you consider him a human being. And if he’s not used to being treated that way, that will likely give him pause. Like you, I think it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt.

  20. Wow. I hear you, so much. Sariah, thank you for your words! I used to live my life safeguarding myself against ‘people’, too, but wow. What kind of stone did I think I was cut from, you know?

    Thank you for your kind words. 🙂 (And thanks to my friend Kaylie for showing me this post!)

  21. I identify with this article so much. Last year my fiance and I traveled the US, sleeping in our camper in weird places, and giving away free food. For 6 months, we heard doom and gloom from friends and family. People thought we’d be robbed, beaten, or even killed. Instead, we were welcomed warmly (almost) everywhere we went, and we made a lot of friends along the way. I can’t wait until we can buy a house, so I can never lock the door and leave a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter for anyone who stops by.

  22. I am working on this with my husband. We’re both in law enforcement (he’s a state cop, I’m an animal control officer), but I’m definitely the humanist. He’s way more paranoid (seems to be a cop thing) though he hates when I say that. For example, the other night we were driving home through a quiet suburban neighborhood in our town. This is one of those neighborhoods where the elementary school is within eyesight, kids sell lemonade in the summer, and there are multi-family yard sales every weekend. It was maybe 4:30 when we were passing through, and we saw a boy about eight years old roller skating down the sidewalk by himself. My husband said, “Wow, he’s a bit young to be out alone.” What? Seriously? I pointed out that this was like the most benign neighborhood ever, the kid was obviously just learning to skate so I doubt he’d made it far from his home, and it was still hours before dark. There was a wide strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road, so there wasn’t even a worry in my mind about him getting hit by a car. This all led to a debate about whether or not he was too paranoid, and whether or not our future kids would be allowed to bike from our house, through this quiet neighborhood to the local corner store to buy an ice cream by themselves. He pointed out that children get abducted every day by strangers. I reminded him that statistically it is way more likely that our children would be murdered by one of us or another family member than by a stranger. He said, “I don’t care about statistics! Sometimes you’re too smart, you need to live in reality! Letting kids wander the streets alone is a risk!” I pointed out that children are far, far more likely to die in a car crash than they are to get abducted by a stranger…but we’re not going to never take them for a car ride, are we?

    Unfortunately, for someone in law enforcement, he sees and hears about bad things at a higher rate than the rest of the population, so it gives him a conflated view of just how dangerous the world is. I try to be more optimistic. We’ll teach our kids proper bicycle safety and the rules of the road, and dammit when they’re eight years old if they want to ride the mile to the local corner market for an ice cream and too much candy, then they will!

    The reality is that we actually live in the least violent time in human history. The problem is that now we hear about every single act of violence, ever murder, every child abduction, so it feels like there is more danger than there ever was before. This amount of media coverage just wasn’t there back in the good ol’ days.

  23. I live my life like this as well, but I listen to my instincts/intuition/gut.
    I assume that everyone is a good, genuine person unless I get a sense that something is off…
    It makes me happier and I honestly believe that life lives up to your assumptions about it.

  24. I have a friend whose trust in her fellow human is a sort of survival strategy. She takes precautions and she’s good at evaluating when a person is dangerous or creepy, but she’s always willing to give strangers the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps her level of privilege allows her to do this; she is white and lives in a strongly middle-class area. But she’s also female, not young, suffering from serious illnesses, unemployed and living on very little money (she was even living in her van for awhile). Sometimes she loses consciousness in public – but she’s always woken up to some stranger concerned for her well-being. If she wasn’t willing to trust in the essential goodness of people she doesn’t know, she’d be totally alone (her family doesn’t support her at all) and she’d never be able to leave the house. If she lived in fear, she wouldn’t walk in the park by herself or go listen to live music at night – she wouldn’t be able to do the things that sustain her soul.

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