Seeing the Good In People

A man named Leon once asked Peace Pilgrim about her experiences on the road. He said she must have run into some rough individuals in her wanderings. Peace placed her hand on his arm to get his full attention and said: “You don’t understand Leon. You see, I go where they are. I do not ask them to come where I am.”

He pondered over this response for a long time. Then several years later Leon invited Peace to Alaska and Hawaii to meet his relatives. While in Hawaii he took her to a park on the Big Island. When they got to the parking lot, there was a young man who had obviously been drinking. He Approached Leon and Peace, curious about this woman with “PEACE” emblazoned in large letters on the front of the tunic she was wearing. Leon told him they were there to explore the park. The young man enthusiastically responded that he wanted to be their tour guide. For more than an hour he took them around the park - he was loud, boisterous, and every sentence was peppered with four letter words. Leon was aghast, what could Peace be thinking to allow this?

When they got to a visitor center crowded with tourists Leon was beyond embarrassment and humiliation to be in the company of this vulgar young man. When their time ran out Peace turned to the young man, thanked him for his help, and told him they had to leave. He stood there with tears running down his cheeks and dripping from his chin.

Leon looked into the face of this young man and remembered the words Peace had spoken to him years earlier. “I go where they are. I do not ask them to come where I am.” And then he understood. While he had been looking at the surface of this situation with judgement and criticism, Peace was looking deeper. There is good in everyone, she used to say, no matter how deeply it is buried, it is always there. When you look for the good, you’re likely to find it.

Peace told another story, in which she was walking in the desert. It was late at night and cold. She passed a car that was parked by the side of the road and a man yelled out, “Come get in - it’s cold out there.” And Peace answered, “Oh, I don’t ride.” He told her he wasn’t going anywhere - he was just parked.

She got in and after they talked for a while he said, “wouldn’t you like to get a few winks of sleep?” She said, “Oh yes,” and curled up on the back seat and went to sleep. When she woke up the man looked puzzled and they talked for quite some time. He admitted that when he invited her in he had certainly meant her no good - but when she curled up and went to sleep so trustingly, he just couldn’t touch her.

In relating the story, she said “No one walks so safely as one who walks humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith, for such a person gets through to the good in others, and there is good in everyone no matter how deeply it is buried. Therefore one cannot be harmed. This works between individuals, it works between groups and it would work between nations if nations had the courage to try it.”

I believed in these principles that Peace spoke about - but I was skeptical that simple people like myself, not so evolved and enlightened - could really access those principles in challenging times.

And then I had an opportunity to test it out. When Peace died in 1981 in a head-on car crash while being driven to a speaking engagement, I was devastated. I still had so much to learn from her. I went on a personal retreat to Maui, the last place I had traveled with her, to just process her passing and the many lessons I had learned from her.

At dawn I would go out walking and one morning I was on a remote road leading to a beach. I noticed 3 big men in the distance walking in my direction. They had probably been partying all night and were walking with a swagger. The breeze was blowing in my direction and as they got closer I could heard them talking about molesting me. I was terrified. I could feel the fear in the pit of my stomach.

Then I heard Peace’s words in my head, talking about a little girl she had defended against a large man: “I knew she was in great danger because of her fear.” She had often spoken about how we attract that which we fear. Immediately I visualized lifting the fear up out of my body and I could feel the tension begin to dissipate. I then visualized lifting the three men and myself up into higher hands. As I surrendered to the situation knowing that it was out of my control, a sense of calmness ran through me. When the men were close enough I made eye contact with each of them and in the cheeriest voice I could muster, greeted them with "Good morning!" The three scary men suddenly looked like schoolboys as their eyes dropped to the ground and they stumbled over their feet, mumbling "Good morning" in response. I was totally taken by surprise, never anticipating that I would walk away from that situation unharmed. "No one walks more safely than one who walks humbly and lovingly," Peace's voice echoed, "for they shall reach the good in the other person and the person will be disarmed."

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023