05/28/2012 11:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Honoring the Honesty Box

There's something about the New Zealand landscape that is just a little beyond special. I'm not talking about the natural, ever-changing and rugged beauty of the place itself, which hits you squarely in the eye at every corner -- that's something we tend to take for granted. It's more the objects that are made by hand, peppered around the countryside with simplicity, integrity and obvious care.

These little gems are homemade stalls that sit alongside countless, meandering roads, each offering perfect specimens of fruit, vegetables, flowers and other things. The wares on offer sit patiently and unattended, refreshed by their owners at least daily, accompanied by a plain little container. Wooden, plastic or otherwise, they are each marked "Honesty Box," inviting passersby to put in a dollar or two -- sometimes a couple more -- in exchange for a heaving bag of mandarins, peaches, asparagus, corn, tomatoes, bouquets of flowers... you get the picture.

Around the corner from our home, a fellow named Frank grows his own tomatoes to export overseas in huge, block-long glass houses. He also has a little stall on the roadside where bags of his produce are piled in crates for anyone to take, cheaper than you'd find at the grocery store, with proceeds benefiting the local country school. About 100 yards farther down the road, another neighbor sells some of his corn (notice we stopped to take a photo). The corn in the shed was sold out that day, but my boys found a little box full of coins still there, of course.


This idea to build a little hodgepodge stall, place some homegrown goodness inside, and then invite others to take what they like and leave payment in return isn't new. It shows that a good many people here still have an intrinsic trust in others in this age when we are quick to doubt, find fault or simply don't trust as easily as did our ancestors. Why is it so hard for us to believe that people will do the right thing when given the opportunity? It's been said that others generally live up to our own expectations, so shouldn't we tell ourselves to expect the very best from people? In doing so, we teach the next generation to fearlessly do the same and perpetuate a way of thinking that never should have left us. Sure, there will be times we'll be let down by someone else. But there's a message in those incidents too. We are human. We all make mistakes. And even still, we should never give up on other people -- or ourselves either, for that matter.

Some of us are learning about life in the school of hard knocks. It's not easy to live without doubt when a person has known a great many disappointments. I get that. I have quite a special job, you see, leading a charity that helps support people living with mental illness. Plenty of them are cut off from society... and even their own families, in many cases. Some function quite well; others wish only to be what they believe is "normal." They want to have a job. Hold a driver's license. Have a cell phone to get in touch with others. Blossom into someone with self-respect, which many have never known. Believe that someone else cares. Feel loved. Simple things that you and I might take for granted. As part of my work, I am lucky to be meeting so many who teach me how important it is to keep that faith in others. They've put out their "honesty boxes." And they are ever so cautiously looking to us to pay them back with our understanding and kindness. Like Frank, who carefully grows his tomatoes to perfection, these people are tending to their hearts and minds to contribute their best to society.

In a world that moves incredibly fast these days, those who have the patience to be decidedly solicitous and respectful to others raises humanity to another level. If we examine our own tendency to doubt the inherent goodness of people and turn that around completely so that we have, in the first instance, faith in others, wouldn't the world be just a little bit better?