Where I Buy Dinner for Strangers

Posted: September 9, 2011 in Philosophical Debris

When I was about 20 years old I took a year off university and did the whole “travel Europe to discover yourself” thing.  It was probably one of the wisest choices I made in my life, and I strongly recommend it to young people (or older, if you can swing it).  My journey through Europe and Northern Africa put me in touch with countless kind and generous people.  There was the hotel mogul who saw that we were counting pennies to buy a boat ticket to Majorca and offered to pay our way first class.  There was the family in Austria that took me in off the street for Easter dinner.  There was the French Culture Ministry lady who arranged for me to attend the Cannes Film Festival free of charge.  These are just a few of the people who stepped forward to help the Canadian, scruffy looking travelers making their way through Europe on a tight budget.

Last night while I was down at the Film Festival, I popped up to Queen Street in order to get something to eat.  All the restaurants on King were deluged with people.  I found this little hole in the wall BBQ and Burger place that actually had good food, ordered a corn beef sandwich with a healthy salad, and sat down to enjoy my meal.

Within a few minutes a group of four young men, around 19 or 20 years old, came in and took the table beside mine.  From their heavy British accents and the topics of their conversation it was clear that they were travelers visiting Toronto, nearing the end of their journey, and pooling their money in order to try to buy dinner.  I struck up a conversation to confirm my deductions and then quickly told them to go ahead and order what they wanted and I would cover the cost.  They were surprised and reluctant, but I explained to them that I had once been where they are now and had received kindness from many people.  I would be pleased to return some of that good fortune.  They happily accepted, obviously hungry (although guys that age are probably always hungry), and we had a pleasant conversation for about ten minutes where they told my about themselves and their travels.  I left to catch my movie feeling pretty good.

Now, I’m not really looking for any kind of pat on the back.  I actually was hesitant to post the story here because I really wanted the whole thing to be anonymous.  The only reason I post it at all is to draw attention to something that I thought about later.  I left thinking about the positive feeling that I helped to engender in these young men, giving them a positive impression, not only of Canadians but of human nature in general.  I was a product of similar kindness and I’m sure it did a lot to shape my life.  All of this without any need for religious values.

People often think that moral and ethical values are linked to religion and a belief that a God is watching, judging and that they will be held accountable one day.  This belief is based on a level of morality dependent on some kind of parent figure approval or disapproval, and the fear of reward or punishment.  It is probably true that there are many people who require that exact kind of moral boundary in order to guide and limit their actions.  -And yet there is a more evolved type of morality that is based on humanism and a sense of mutual good or intrinsic values.  (That’s not to say that there aren’t levels of religious experience that can tap into this as well.)  I wanted to show kindness because I had experienced kindness and know the benefits from it.  No God.  No religion.  Just me and life.

This is the real foundation of morality and ethics; I don’t believe that it has much to do with religion at all.  Just look at the evangelist preachers who get caught with hookers, and the devout Catholics who ask for forgiveness for their Mafia activities in confession.  Religion may put some loose guidelines and parameters in place, but the heart of a person’s morality is based on their own intrinsic values, determined by life experiences.

I would hope that the guys whose dinner I bought last night will, at some time in their futures, pass on the kindness as I have tried to.


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