We could all use a boost to our faith in humanity. Our history books are filled with wars and class struggles, and our news media with the same. It can sometimes be hard to keep our faith in our fellow humans, but there is good news.
For every unsettling or tragic event in history, there has been another that was kind and profound. Humanity has a lot of good within its nature. We have evidence of human compassion millions of years ago, we currently perform remarkable acts of kindness every day, and we will likely continue to far into the future.
This list collects ten of those moments throughout history, ten examples of mercy and charity that will restore your faith in humanity.
10Owens and Long
Jesse Owens’s performance and class at the 1936 Olympic Games are inspiring and well-known. A lesser-known fact about those Olympic Games, however, which may prompt even more inspiration, is the friendship it forged between Owens and German Olympian Luz Long.
Though Long was competing as an official representative of Hitler himself, he showed no fear in befriending and aiding Owens. At one point, Owens, though he had already raked in four gold medals, was struggling to qualify for the long jump event. It was then that Long, despite his Führer’s open contempt for Owens, offered the American star some advice, which actually allowed Owens to successfully qualify. Owens later said of the meeting, “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have, and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”
The two remained friends until Long’s death in 1943 when he even penned one of his final letters to Owens.
9An Accidental Family
When Wanda Dench texted her grandson to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner at her Mesa, Arizona, home, she received a surprising response: “You not my grandma. Can I still get a plate tho?” She wrote back, “Of course. That’s what grandma’s do…feed everyone.” And thus, a loving family was created by accident.
Dench had mistakenly texted Jamal Hinton, a total stranger, and due to the openness in both their hearts, Hinton ended up actually going to Dench’s house for Thanksgiving. Six Thanksgivings later, the makeshift family is closer than ever. Plans for a movie on their unlikely friendship are in the works.
8A Dog-Based Ceasefire
It is a strange but true fact that, during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington ordered a ceasefire in order to return a lost dog to an enemy general.
After the two forces met in combat, Washington noticed the dog had mistakenly stowed away with his troops. Reading its collar, he found that it belonged to enemy general William Howe. Washington’s troops, having just lost their battle, wanted to keep the dog as a bargaining chip. Washington, however, was too honorable to consider it.
He promptly sent the dog back to its owner with a note: “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return [to] him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”
While we’re on the subject of our longtime best friends, it’s worth mentioning the many acts of charity performed on their behalf.
One charming example was the decision by an Ikea store on the island of Sicily to leave their doors open during the cold winter to any stray dogs that needed shelter. Not only did they give the needy strays shelter, but they also let them sleep on a veritable cornucopia of assorted Ikea rugs. They also groomed and fed the dogs and even posted their pictures to adoption websites to find them permanent homes.
6Not Slaves After All
It is a widely-held misconception that slaves built the pyramids of Egypt. While it is true that a select minority were enslaved, most who built the pyramids were skilled laborers and craftsmen who were paid for their work. That should already restore a bit of faith, but there is more.
Though the builders were generally paid handsomely for their work, there was a period in which their compensation began to arrive sporadically and late. This led to the first strikes in recorded history, as builders refused to continue creating the pyramids. Though officials, under the rule of Ramesses III, initially had no idea how to handle this unprecedented situation, they eventually met the strikers’ demands: from then on, their payments were timely and regular. The first strike in history was a success.
The Battle of Castle Itter has come to be known as the strangest battle of World War II, and it deserves another title: perhaps the most faith-restoring.
The battle occurred just days after Hitler committed suicide and days before the war’s official end. During this brief window, regular German troops were freer to show their true colors as Nazi leadership crumbled. The Battle of Castle Itter demonstrated this well, as it saw U.S. and German soldiers join forces and fight together (also with French POWs and the Austrian Resistance) against a force of Nazi SS soldiers. It helped show the world that Hitler’s evil couldn’t truly overtake an entire country.
4Without a Second Thought
This entry and the next prove the unimaginable and immediate selflessness that we are capable of in the face of unspeakable tragedy—in this case, the terror attacks of 9/11. Immediately following the initial attacks on the World Trade Center, tunnels were closed, and traffic fleeing Manhattan via bridges reached a standstill. Many civilians, especially in those neighborhoods closest to the attacks, were desperate to escape the island but had no way to do so. Luckily, their salvation came like lightning.
A coast guard transmission went out. “All available boats,” it said. “This is the United States Coast Guard… Anyone wanting to help with the evacuation of Lower Manhattan report to Governors Island.” Within minutes, around 150 private ships of all shapes, sizes, and purposes reported for duty and got to work. All told, these heroic captains transported around 500,000 people away from the disaster zone. This came to be known as the 9/11 Boat Lift, which to this day, is the largest water evacuation in history.
3Operation Yellow Ribbon
Another consequence of the 9/11 attacks was the entirely unprecedented grounding of all aircraft over the United States. The grounding of that many planes had never been attempted so quickly. Though so many at the Federal Aviation Administration and the many airports performed admirably, a certain amount of chaos was guaranteed. Luckily, Canada stepped up and volunteered to divert around 240 aircraft to its own airports. Their sole goal: to prevent further attacks by rerouting as many planes still in the air as possible to military and civilian airports in Canada.
Seventeen airports voluntarily took in the fleet of aircraft, knowing full well that any of them could contain terrorists as well. Luckily, Canadian authorities were able to rule out all of the flights as threats. So, in true Canadian fashion, many of the grounded passengers were treated with the utmost care. Some were even escorted by locals around the town they were grounded in, shown the sights, and treated like honored guests.
2Make Christmas, Not War
The 1914 Christmas Truce during World War I has endured as one of the most impactful moments of spontaneous human kindness in recent history—and with good reason. Coming in the middle of one of the bloodiest wars in human history, the unplanned and entirely unofficial truce between German and British troops on Christmas Day seems like a major, albeit brief, miracle.
All along the Western Front, one of the most brutal battlefields in history, German and British troops (alongside many other nations’ forces) had been hunkered down in trenches and shooting anything that moved between the lines, creating a lethal no-man’s-land. And yet on Christmas, in many places along the Front, soldiers from one side or another left their trenches, called out to their erstwhile enemies, and joined for caroling and feasting.
There was no order for a truce. Soldiers on both sides simply acted on the same wish at the same time: for this one day to be filled with peace and what joy could be found.
1Compassion Is Ancient
Acts of kindness are not a new invention. It’s likely that, for as long as there have been humans, there has been human kindness. In 2005, archaeologists announced a find that likely provides evidence of this innate compassion as far back as almost two million years ago. At Dmanisi, Georgia, a dig site that had already yielded a lot of information about our ancestors, scientists uncovered a skull and jawbone that will make you say, “Awww.”
The skull and jawbone were from an adult male, likely quite old and possibly ill. The man had lost all but one of his teeth, and (importantly) his tooth sockets had been resorbed into his skull. That meant that the man had lost his teeth at least two years before dying. Further, it could indicate that he was somehow able to obtain and/or prepare enough soft food to survive for years—a feat which he was unlikely to manage by himself.
Combined with nearby evidence, such as stone tools and animal bones with cut marks, the scene suggests that the old man, though possibly ill, unable to hunt, and unable to chew his own food, had one or more loved ones who took care of him. For years, and to the detriment of their own caloric needs, they may have shared their meat and foraged food, helped the old man cut food up, and even chewed his food for him. Since this would serve little to maintain their survival, it’s likely that the individual(s) that helped the old man to keep going did so out of pure affection.