Good people in the world are everywhere if you want them to be

While walking around the suburb of Collingwood the other day while pushing Pookster in the stroller, I came across the little free library cabinet and took a peek to see what children’s books might be interesting. I took out a book in almost-new condition called “I Am Grateful,” which I thought would be perfect since I was thinking about books that teach little ones gratitude. The book is beautifully illustrated with people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and it starts with phrases about being grateful for what we may consider basic, like our eyes for seeing and our ears for hearing. It eventually branches out into gratitude for the people in our lives and the experiences we are so lucky to have.

Gratitude is not something that comes naturally. It really is something that needs to be taught and instilled at as early an age as possible. As I read this book a number of times to Pooks, who is loving it and asking for it “again” and “again,” I thought about my miserable cousin who now lives in Westchester, who is going to turn 50 next year, and exactly how ungrateful he is for nearly everything. He is constantly angry with everyone and everything. He is a victim of the world, and everyone is out to get him and his son. Generally, if you are not a Chinese American male, he hates you and thinks you’re a problem. A frequent text he sends to our mini group of his brother, our uncle, and me is “White people need to die.” Maybe my cousin could have benefited from a book like this when he was young so he wouldn’t be full of so much anger and hate today. He said that everywhere he goes, people are mean and awful to him. But in my own experiences, I’ve felt quite the opposite. While I may be upset about the state of polarized politics in the U.S., or the terrible atrocities that are happening in Israel and Gaza, for the most part, I feel that people at their core are good.

On our first day in Bundaberg on Sunday, I was thinking about how Chris’s dad told us to look for Bowen mangoes while in Queensland because they were not easy to source in Victoria (I have since corrected his information: Bowen is just another name for Kensington Pride mangoes, which are the most common and popular mango in all of Australia and thus extremely easy to find during mango season). So we asked around, and we found out that there is a stretch of road where mango orchards and and we could buy a whole tray of mangoes for just $15. Unfortunately, given we’re only here for 3.5 days, we’d have to beg the growers to sell us just one. Well, I didn’t even have to do that. Chris dropped me off at one orchard, where I met the owner and asked if I we could just buy a single ripe mango. He said he typically only sells by the tray (and all the mangoes were still green and quite far from ripe), but I told him we’d be leaving to go back to Melbourne in just 4 days. So he dug through his massive pile of mangoes and found one very ripe one, ready to be cut that evening. I asked him how much it would cost, and he waved his hand and said, don’t worry about it. It’s on me. I insisted and took money out of my wallet and said I had to give him something for it. He smiled warmly and said, “No, I can’t take your money. I hope you enjoy it and have a safe trip.” It was so kind and generous of him to do that — completely unexpected.

The experience I’ve noted above is not an isolated one. Everywhere we have traveled around the globe, people have extended warmth, kindness, and generosity. This was even before Pookster was in the picture. I’ve found that with a little smile, even with a language barrier, people generally are kind and always willing to help. I used to tell my cousin this, but it would always fall on deaf ears. “It’s because you’re a girl,” he’d always retort. Maybe. But Chris isn’t…?

Americans get made fun of as international travelers for always smiling — “You always know someone’s an American because they smile so much,” some Europeans have noted. But you know what? A smile is going to get you farther than a straight face or a scowl; it is a quick way of indicating good intentions. And a smile transcends languages and cultures. So it’s best to smile and have a good disposition: it won’t cost you anything, and chances are that more cases than not, it will get you a smile back. And we’d all be happier and less stressed if we were surrounded by more smiles.

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