New Cabbie, and Human Goodness

Tonight I wanted to take the bus home but the screen at the bus stop didn’t display anything, on any of its three pages of digital information, about any bus coming to my area of town, even though it was giving info about buses that were due for the next pass in 80 or 90 minutes.

So I gave up and decided to catch a cab home. I hailed one right in front of the bus stop and got in to find a very young man driving. He seemed confident enough when I told him the neighborhood, but after a minute he was talking. For some reason I’d felt like listening to music instead of chatting—I normally chat with cabbies when I take the cab alone, as a way of practicing my Korean—so I took out my headphones and asked him what he’d said.

He told me he was new to taxi-driving, and new to the city; he’d only been driving taxi 5 days, and only lived in Jeonju for 3 months, in fact. He’d moved in from the country, from a small town near Jeonju. So he didn’t know where my building, nor the landmark building nearby, were located. So I guided him, which was pretty easy: pass this hospital, then go straight, at this spot turn right, do you see this hospital, it’s a landmark, and here you should turn left, this apartment building to the right is another big landmark, and here were are at my apartment building.

For once, a taxi driver wasn’t telling me that I was good at Korean: instead, this guy said to me, “와, 전주의 길을 잘 하시네요!” (Wow, you know the streets in Jeonju very well!) I reassured him that I only know my own neighborhood well. He was a nice fellow, and reminded me of small-town people back in Saskatchewan: good-natured, not bookish but certainly the kind of person you trust, the kind of person who’s wise enough to put priode aside and accept a tip, and from whom you just get an emanating sense of decency.

It’s nice to run across someone like that every once in a while; it renews your faith in… well, now, I’m reading Time Magazine and can’t say my faith in humanity has been restored—I’ve read too much about North Korea to have spare faith in the general body of humanity right now—but in the possibility that people can just be downright decent and good, given the right upbringing, opportunity, and the environment.

This reminds me of something I wrote recently about Evil Dr. Mengele and his letters in Brazil. I wrote of how human evil is often quite banal. But of course, I should also note that human goodness is also often quite banal. It’s someone being polite when they don’t have to, or just being goodnatured in a way you can see when you meet them. It’s when a helping hand is given to someone who deserves it, or a moment of unexpected honesty with someone you barely know. Human goodness is necessary for a decent society, of course, and more and more of it would definitely aid human societies to be more decent, but a lot of human goodness is invisble to us in our daily lives, masked by our expectations of politeness and proper behaviour. We look for it in those rare few people who dedicate their lives to serving others, or who risk their lives saving others… but human goodness, like human evil, is all around us, and often it seems we find it quite unremarkable.

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