Being a Decent Human Being

For some years now, we have had a feud with our next door neighbors. They have always seemed to be odd people. Even when my grandparents lived in our house forty years ago, these neighbors were odd. They mow their lawn in the dark, they work on cars at two in the morning, they never have any trash, … and no one ever visits them.

We found out a few years ago that they hoard everything. You know the show about people who are hoarders, whose homes are filled with trash and piles of junk? Yep, those are our neighbors. But unlike most hoarders you see on tv, the outside of their home is immaculate. They are constantly mowing and edging and trimming bits of leaves from bushes.

No joke. She stood outside in her yard last week for more than an hour with a pair of hand clippers trimming bits and pieces of leaves off a bush in her backyard. She’s done it at least four times this year so far.

It’s not like it’s a hedge or a piece of garden sculpture you might see in a formal garden somewhere, either. It’s a big round bush which she’s trimmed to be three feet off the ground and it’s all by itself in the middle of an otherwise completely empty yard of grass. It doesn’t flower or have fruit. It’s just a big round blob of dull green.

But our problem with them goes well beyond their oddities. They’ve plugged electrical extensions into our garage lights, they’ve attached hoses to our outside spigot, they’ve blocked our shared drive over and over and over, they’ve shot at us, they’ve killed our cats, they’ve spit on our children, and the list goes on.

Needless to say, when the woman stood in our driveway, one fist firmly planted on a hip, a finger pointed in my face, and screamed, “You are not a decent human being. No one that has ever lived in your house has been a decent human being.” I was rather puzzled.

How could this woman who thought nothing of stealing from us, killing animals at random, and spitting on children even dare to think that I wasn’t a decent human being?

I mean, really. We’ve been foster parents to over seventeen children, adopted a special needs child, taken care of every stray that ever thought of walking across our yard, recycle religiously, refuse to use pesticides or other non-organic substances, take care of the elderly neighbors around us, don’t drink, smoke or use drugs, have never been in trouble with the law, pay our bills on time, and on and on and on. We love our family and friends. Our children mean the world to us …

But we aren’t decent human beings??? Really???

And then it struck me. What are human beings if not indecent, rude, selfish, unforgiving, mean, disrespectful, argumentative, loathsome blobs of flesh and bone? And why would I ever want to be decent at those things?

So, what does it mean to be a “decent human being”?

I guess that all depends on your definition of “decent”.

I guess what is more puzzling to me, is why any of us ever think any other human being we encounter isn’t going to be anything other than perfect? We’re all human. We aren’t gods. We’re going to screw up somewhere along the line. We’re going to piss people off, step on toes, speak in anger, argue about stupid things, disagree, and generally be hateful.

We are human, after all.

But to be decent, in this world, takes something more than that. It takes loving people who hate you, persevering when the odds are against you, finding a place where peace can regenerate your soul. It takes petting a cat, running with your dog, driving your car, growing a tomato, flying a plane, climbing a mountain … and giving everyone else the space to be at peace as well.

Being a decent human being is not a one-size-fits-all garment we can take out of the closet and pull over our head. It is something that grows from within us and shows itself to those who know where to look, to those who want to see.


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