Over the last two months, I've had the privilege of traveling around the country for a new reality series that I created and executive produced for CBS. My intent was to follow families as they determined what matters most in their lives. But the end result of this experience affected me in ways that will forever change my life.
No, I didn't find the Fountain of Youth, or the Holy Grail, or a unicorn. I found something perhaps even more elusive... I found faith in humanity.
You may have noticed that I didn't write a "renewed" faith in humanity. Why? Because it was never really lost. Many of us, including myself, just may have been looking for it in the wrong places.
Before I tell you where it's been, let me start off by admitting that whether it's because I'm the son of a corporate bank attorney, who taught me to always watch my back with people, or the product of being in a cut-throat business like the entertainment industry (see Dad's advice in previous sentence), or a wicked combination of both, I haven't had the greatest faith in humanity. Don't get me wrong, there are honest and wonderful people in the entertainment industry, and maybe even in banking, however, when the words "faith in humanity" get tossed around, Hollywood and banks don't come immediately to mind.
I would like to think of myself as a good person. I'm honest, hardworking and will always try and do the right thing. But there's no way someone would ever look at me and say, "He's given me a renewed faith in humanity." Never. Because, no matter what good I've ever done, it has never come at a great sacrifice to me. In fact, I've done good things, knowing that something good might even come back to me. That would never give anyone a renewed faith in humanity.
Even Madison Avenue has it all wrong. It seems as though "random acts of kindness" and "pay it forward" messaging have been making their way into many advertisers' commercial campaigns. I'm sure these advertisers are doing some good, but these acts also provide a potential gain where the advertiser is benefitting from the publicity of their generosity. To me, that qualifies as neither random nor pure.
This is the slippery slope you go down when you start to think of these things. That's why what I've just witnessed over the last two months is not only inspiring, but I believe it has the potential to change people in this country and around the world.
So where has this "faith in humanity" been this entire time? The answer is in the heart of America -- with the middle.
That's right; these are the families struggling every single day to make ends meet. The same families whose dreams are out of reach and who go without buying meat at the grocery store so they can pay for their kid's music lessons. These middle class families make sacrifices every day for friends and loved ones in their lives. But the question is: If given a chance to improve their own situation, or that of a complete stranger's, would they lend a helping hand before thinking of themselves?
During the production I visited families from across the country and showed up with a briefcase with $101,000 cash inside and asked them to make a decision, whether they wanted to keep it all, share some of it, or give all of it to another family in need.
There was not one single case where any of these families' immediate reactions were anything other than selfless, saying, "There's no way we're keeping this money," or "There's no way we can keep it all." Whether it was putting off adopting a baby, paying off crippling student loan bills, or giving up the dream of owning their own home, the sacrifices being contemplated by these families in order to help someone else, left me speechless at the end of every single day.
The goodness wasn't just good. It was pure. It was genuine. It was emotional. And it affected me profoundly.
But the biggest surprise was that it shouldn't have been surprising at all. Because what I learned from these families is that it didn't matter if I had just shown up with a briefcase full of cash or if I had popped in on them just to get a sense of their life; either way, they've been living their lives always thinking of others first.
For myself, I've had to look in the mirror long and hard since coming back home. I've been questioning how I can make a change in my life, to share with others the kind of compassion and generosity that I witnessed in the people that I met through this experience. That will take some time. But it will happen. One thing is for sure, have faith in humanity, because I promise you it is out there and you don't need to look long or far to find it.
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