Anne Frank was just a child when she said “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” She had not yet experienced the ultimate refutation of her belief and, as grownups, we would rather she go on in her innocent trust.
I’m a grown up, but there is still a little bit of Anne Frank in me. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I believe – or I would like to believe that I believe – in the goodness of human nature.
This week has been a formidable test.
Our staff member Manoj was hit by a speeding car five days ago. Manoj is a darling, but really – all our staff are. He is also poor, honest, cheerful and ever-ready. We are so lucky to know him.
The man who ran into him, on the other hand . . . well, I don’t want to judge, but it seems – to hear him tell it – that the accident happened to him and not to Manoj.
Every time I have spoken to him, he has been wallowing in his sense of his own misfortune: he is obsessed with the timing, with his bad luck, with the mess he has found himself in. But overlying all is the conviction that his life is not going to change as a result of this accident.
When we mentioned five lakhs as a reasonable sum to be paid (reasonable being an extremely fluid term), his response was incredulity and offense. Did we not realize that he had sisters he had to marry off? That he had car payments to make? A house to build?
It is as if it has simply not sunk in that his life has changed, that he will forever be responsible for the destruction of another man’s hopes and dreams and that while he cannot bring those hopes and dreams back, he can give up some of his own in reparation.
Reparation. Redemption. These are terms which do not seem to be in his vocabulary. He doesn’t understand that without reparation he will have no integrity and that his precious self – the one which owns a car and is planning on weddings for his sisters, a house and holidays in Singapore – will splinter and crack into a million little pieces.
Already, his friends are drawing away from him. He sent goondas (thugs) to meet with us and negotiate on his behalf. His true friends began to withdraw then. When he finally announced that five lakhs was out of the question, that he wouldn’t give a penny and we were free to file a formal case against him, they pulled up stakes.
He is on his own. He’s chosen the very short-term over the long life of conscience and integrity which he could have had. He doesn’t realize, of course, what that means. He has no integrity now; he is no longer whole. His “friends” are violent, mean, unhappy men who have no concept of right or wrong, evil or good. But he has chosen them and is counting on them to make it all turn out well.
What a shock he is in for.
He caused the accident, he is the one whose carelessness has destroyed Manoj’s future and yet he believes he doesn’t owe him or his family any more than he feels he is capable of giving.
And the irony?
Dozens of people who have never met Manoj and who never will have donated thousands of rupees. I put out my appeal less than 24 hours ago and already we have collected 1.6 lakhs.
It gives you hope. To say nothing of joy and a strange desire to weep.
Maybe, in spite of everything, Anne Frank was right.