The surprising thing about people that shouldn’t be surprising



Lisa Earle McLeod

Why are we always so surprised when people are nice?

During the recent Atlanta snow debacle commuters found themselves stranded on the highway, some were stuck there all night. Upon hearing the news, several nearby families loaded wagons with crackers and water and delivered sustenance to the stranded motorists.

Someone on Facebook commented, “This just reminds you that there are still good people in this world.”

I’m struck by how surprised we always seem to be at the kindness of others.

In my experience, every time there’s a tragedy, or even a just calamity, people almost always come forth in a generous and caring way. Systems may fail, but when people have the opportunity to help, they almost always do it.

So why are we always surprised?

Is it because we ourselves would never do something kind or generous? Or is it because we believe that we’re in a small minority of people who care about others?

My husband was at the grocery store returning his cart to the outdoor cart corral when he noticed a large, rather worn, purse sitting in the cart ahead of his.

He looked around to see if someone was coming for it. When no one appeared, he picked up the purse, and took it inside to the customer service desk.

After waiting in line, he told the customer service manager, “I found this in a cart outside. When the person realizes that she forgot it, she’ll probably call or come looking for it. I thought this was the safest place to hold it.”

Again, the reaction was surprise.

The clerk said, “Wow, I can’t believe you returned it.”

A woman behind him in line said, “You are the nicest man.”

My husband is a very nice man. But he was taken aback by the surprised response to what he considered a fairly ordinary act of good citizenship.

I’m not so naïve as to think that lost purses are regularly returned in crime-infested areas. My husband also pointed out that if he were black or Hispanic, he might have hesitated because he wouldn’t want to be accused of taking it.

But poverty and prejudice aside, I believe that in most situations, most people would have done exactly what my husband did.

We shared the story at a party later, and our friends disagreed. They said, “Most people would have taken the purse or at the very least ignored it.”

So I conducted an on-the-spot poll, “How many of you,” I asked, “would have done the nice thing?”

Every single person said they would have tried to help.

I believe them.

Several friends shared stories of when they had performed and received similar kindnesses. Like when a woman who found my daughter’s wallet in an Applebee’s parking lot and tracked down our phone number, or the person who found my iPad on the plane and turned it into the gate agent.

In both instances, I was grateful and appreciative, but I wasn’t surprised.

I believe, and I have evidence to prove, that people aren’t just good; people are fabulous!

They load wagons with crackers for strangers, they call you to return your wallet, and they show up with food and blankets at every tragedy this country experiences.

Next time you see someone doing something wonderful, be grateful, but don’t be surprised, that’s just the way people are.

‑ Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant, and author of several books (


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