Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Not-So-Secret Society

Days until departure: 3, if this bike part gets here in 2.

When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

My senior year of college, I came up with an idea for a secret society of people that are good and help each other. It sounds a little abstract -- I never went so far as to define what makes a “good person” or how the society was to be organized or expanded. I just liked the idea of having people you could rely on to help you out in a pinch, there always being a door you could knock on if in need of a place to stay, a warm meal, if your phone and wallet were stolen and you needed someone to spot you for a cab ride home, or maybe if you just needed someone to talk to. Members could have been identified by a sign on their door or a pin on their lapel or maybe a directory of some kind. Fans of the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender might recall the Order of the White Lotus whose members identified themselves by a certain set of moves in the fictional board game Pai Sho.

I never worked out the details of my Society, it was just an idea.

Last year a friend picked me up from the bus stop. After hugging and loading my suitcase, she couldn’t start the car. When I suggested we ask someone for a jump, my friend responded: “People don’t do that any more.” With respect to my friend, I don’t think that’s true at all. Yes, we now spend more time indoors (93%) than ever, and our children spend less time outdoors than our prisoners. We spend more time watching TV and less time talking to strangers. This can, understandably, create the perception that people are less likely to help one another. But I don’t think there’s any substantive evidence to indicate that’s true. This story is circumstantial, of course, but the second person I asked didn’t hesitate to help us jump the car. In fact, we were the second hand he was giving that day, as he was there volunteering for a local church by picking up a homeless person who bussed into town looking for a job.

We couldn’t get my friend’s car to start, but then another homeless person walked by who was once a car mechanic. He was able to get the jump to work. I didn’t have to, but I gave him a few dollars for his time.

I know, I know, circumstantial. It’s complete chance that I’d run into a church volunteer with jumper cables at the exact moment my friend’s car died and that an ex-car mechanic would walk by as we failed to do the jump.

But there’s also Nic, the friend who spent his entire Saturday helping me move. And Edwin, the AT&T employee who promised I’d be taken care of if I ever biked through Columbia. There’s the volunteers at the community bike shop who let me use their tools free of charge (though I chose to donate anyways). When I was stuck in the Chicago airport on the way back from my service project, 90 Bikes, 90 Days, there was Michael, who bought me dinner, a drink, and was excellent company for a few hours while the airline got things sorted. There was Gene, who invited my then-girlfriend and I to sleep on his property when we were biking across the country, who let us borrow his fishing poles and taught us to filet and cook the fish we caught for dinner that night.

All circumstantial? Okay. All just “being polite” or doing it for their own interest? Some of them, maybe. I know there’s a lot of shit and shitty people in the world (counterpoint: maybe there are just people dealing with their own shit as best they can). I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to be nice. I know my evidence is just as circumstantial as the counterargument. But, I see more evidence that the Secret Society of Good People Who Help Each Other is actually a not-so-secret society rather than an idea a naive college student had that never actualized. I think it’s so not-secret, in fact, that it’s just people.

Since quitting my job, moving to Minneapolis, and working to realize this trip, I have experienced more kindness from strangers than when my lifestyle was sleep, work, consume, repeat. I can’t prove it, but I think when you do extraordinary things with your life, you meet extraordinary people. I’m doing this project because I care about bringing something positive to the world. I’m blogging about it because I think writing can propagate ideas. How do we build empathy and compassion across boundaries of space; external differences such as race, class, and religion; and obstacles such as a sensationalized and fear-based media? How do we create trust in people who don’t have the resources (either physically or mentally) to think beyond themselves?

Maybe we just go outside.


  1. You have great perspective and a tremendous amount of strength, courage and boldness. You are embarking on an adventure full of meaning. Great wisdom - when you do extraordinary things with your life, you meet extraordinary people. More so, extraordinary things happen. Your journey will be extraordinary. Unfortunately, there are people in the world who are not inclined to be kind, and whom kindness won't being to touch, whether for reasons of resources, culture, political or religious beliefs, etc. The media does propagate fear, but dangerous people and places do exist in this world. Don't be naive about that. Plan wisely so that any negative experiences don't destroy your faith in humanity. Be safe so that you can accomplish all of your goals, including #5.

  2. You are an extraordinary person and I believe that is all the leverage that is needed to attract the type of people you speak of. Congratulations on your journey and know that if nothing else you have put a smile on many faces may times since I have met you. Best of luck and tell me when you have made it back around to the bay area.

    1. This was very sweet. I'm glad I could make you all smile. Thank you so much. :)