Are human beings bad, or good? Good or bad? Is the glass half full or half empty? You might be surprised.
Crimestoppers - the hotline where you call in tips for unsolved crimes, released some interesting findings. Their policy up until now has been to hand out a cash reward for evidence that leads to an arrest - it is cheaper than the cost of policing to secure a conviction. But… Crimestoppers found that few who call in tips do it because of the money. Only thirteen percent showed up to collect a reward. The motivating factor for call-ins seems to be a curious and deep seated desire to do the right thing.
It makes me think of the nativity story in the Bible. As I reread it going into Christmas every year, the interesting thing that jumps out at me is Joseph’s reaction when he discovers Mary is pregnant. In that time, an out of wedlock pregnancy would jeapardize your standing in the Synagogue. Onlookers assumed that if the groom was not the father, then the girl must have been stepping out. Joseph considered his options. He could easily blame Mary in order to absolve his own reputation. Blaming Mary meant death by stoning, according to Jewish law if he were to press for legal satisfaction. But Joseph was a just man, the text says. He took Mary his betrothed, absorbing the possibillity for gossip onto himself. Joseph desired something better than mere legalities. He wanted to do the right thing.
What makes people want to do the right thing is a head scratcher. It doesn’t seem to fit the news cycle, which always seems to be bad. It makes me wonder if that draw toward goodness is universal, except that some people act on it, while others ignore that small voice of conscience inside their head. It might come down to some kind of personal calculation, “what’s in it for me? What have I got to lose?” There is a divide with such decision-making that separates self-interest from the possibility for something better. I think it comes down to what you love most.
I am convinced that people have a driving force, one thing that they love above all else. Most people achieve that one thing, at least in part. If they want fame, they usually get it to some degree. If it’s money, they generally end up with it. But like Crimestoppers discovered, a lot of people are not motivated by money at all. They can hear the distant voice of things that are bigger and more long-lasting. They are looking for the “good” whatever that means.
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, Jesus told his disciples. He also recognized that one predominant force seems to motivate people. It comes down to the question sometimes posed: if you were to have a fire in your house and you could only carry out one thing, what would it be? That is a clarifying of priorities. You only get one thing. What will it be?
Well, it had better be irreplaceable. You can’t just go out and buy another one. It also cannot be something that is merely about money. Most go for keepsakes, those tiny treasures that people keep in a drawer and ruminate over, the things that give credence and meaning to their lives. It’s the small and tiny treasures of the heart. Ties to love and memory that no one else will ever know.
It seems to call in the word LOVE. What is it you truly love? When Jesus was asked to boil down the essence of religion, he answered the Pharisees, from Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus immediately tied this with Leviticus 19:18. “And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” It seems that no ethical consideration can ignore love, the one thing at the centre of existence that makes us truly human.
Show me what you love, and I will show you the man. It comes down to one thing, one driving force. It’s clarifying. If you were to carry one thing out of a fire, what would it be? If you had one truth that you wanted to communicate to the rest of the world after you were gone what would it be? One thing… that makes you most alive. Kierkegaard pondered this question in his tome “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing”. He asked, “What kind of life do you live, do you will only one thing, and what is this one thing?”
If you invest wisely, there is a chance that what you choose will live on even after you are gone. Jesus referred to it as treasure in Heaven, the thing that moths and rust cannot destroy. It outlasts mere self-interest, which comes to an end. One thing. That’s all you get. What will it be?