A Moment’s Loss of Faith in Humanity

Derek Mexico, Travel Tales 50 Comments

This is a tale about my day today. While at this very moment I am able to laugh about the day’s events, I cannot say that this was the case earlier.

Actually, far from laughing, I found my legs shaking, my heart beating fast, my arms and chest tensing up and my ears burning as I was stricken with an overall feeling of hopelessness.

And it all began with trying to pay a credit card bill.

My friend and I set out at 11am this morning in order to pay the American Express credit card bill for her family’s business. We drove over to the local branch of Santander Bank, the very same branch that had confirmed to us on the phone that they accept payments for American Express credit card bills.

Of course, when we arrived, the woman behind the counter informed us that such a transaction was not possible.

We then walked across the street to the Banamex Bank, only to be told once again that we could pay every kind of credit card, except American Express.

Over the following three hours, we proceeded to visit three more banks and an American Express office, where we waited for a total of two hours in line, only to be informed each time that our transaction could not be processed for one inexplicable reason or another.

But eventually, after being forced to close our eyes and take deep breaths on several occasions, we managed to get the situation in order…sort of.

With an air of triumph, we walked out of the fifth bank of the day with all of the money we needed stuffed into my friend’s purse. All we had to do now was drive two miles down the road back to the American Express office, hand over the money and be on our way.

THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN TOO EASY!

Just one block from the American Express office, we got a flat tire.

We then pulled over to the side of the road and began to assess the situation. Not the most skilled tire-changers in the world, my friend and I spent about two minutes crouched down next to the rear right tire, trying to figure out how to remove the oddly-shaped bolts.

Once we eventually figured out what needed to be done, I suggested to my friend that she head over to the American Express office while I changed the tire. She walked around the car, opened the driver’s side door and…her purse was gone.

Before getting out of the car, she had placed it on the driver’s seat and now it simply wasn’t there. Somebody had opened the door while we were on the ground trying to set up the car jack, grabbed the purse and taken off without us seeing anything. I know it sounds absurd, but it’s the only possibility. With that purse went about $1000 USD, a driver’s license, a passport, every ATM and credit card, the keys to the apartment and a cell phone.

Somewhat distraught and disappointed in humanity, the both of us just sat on the curb for a while, unable and unwilling to move.

After about twenty minutes, I suddenly decided to take off and I began running like a madman all around the streets within a three-block radius, hoping to find some guy sitting behind a bush counting dollar bills. Of course I found nothing.

IT’S ONLY MONEY

It’s true, losing $1000 was not the problem as it simply isn’t about the money. Nor is it about the credit cards or the passport or the driver’s license, even though it will now take my friend at least three months to recover those documents given the slow speed of such processes in Mexico.

In the end, it’s about people and what kind of person would do such a thing?

Today’s events honestly made me sad. I simply can’t comprehend such an act and so when it happened right before my eyes, I was at an absolute loss of words. As we drove back to the apartment after this incident, my legs were literally shaking so badly and I felt so nauseous that I could barely concentrate. I ended up driving 25 mph the entire way home.

In all the craziness, I even contemplated putting this blog on hold as I began to lose faith in my long-held belief that people are inherently good. And since my entire mission as a global wanderer is based upon that concept, finding the motivation to write another blog post would have been a most difficult challenge.

ALL I NEEDED WERE SOME QUESADILLAS

Luckily, after going for a quick sunset swim and then biting into a few well-needed cheese-stuffed tortillas, my feeling of hopelessness did slowly begin to fade. Of course I’m going to continue writing, of course I’m going to continue believing that all human beings are inherently good.

I should continue believing that, right?

Today was just a disappointing day, a minor setback.

I know that this post might sound like a massive over-exaggeration to a simple robbery, but I really had a difficult time dealing with it….

UNBELIEVABLE!

Just this very moment, and I swear I’m telling the truth, we received a phone call from someone telling us that they have the purse! A girl named Diana found it hanging around a public payphone and after a quick search through the pockets, she discovered a bank receipt with our apartment phone number written on it. Apparently everything is still inside the purse except for the money.

Pardon me while I step away from my laptop for a few minutes of celebratory dancing!  Could it be that this one phone call has officially restored my faith in human beings?

On a side note, I’m a bit confused about what I should think of the person who stole the purse in the first place. Is placing the purse in such a public area, clearly intent on having it found, considered to be an act of kindness? Is it required by some bizarre thieves code of conduct down here?

Well, who cares! Human beings seem to be decent once again and I’m about to have a peaceful night’s sleep.


What do you think? Are people inherently good? Have you ever been forced to seriously question this belief?

Since 1999 I've been traveling and living around the world nonstop. Sign up below for personal stories, real advice and useful updates from my adventures. Only good stuff, no nonsense.

Are you ready to earn money and travel?

How to Work on a Cruise Ship and Travel eBooksClick above and get started!

Comments 50

  1. Cody

    “…I began to lose faith in my long-held belief that people are inherently good. And since my entire mission as a global wanderer is based upon that concept…”

    That’s the first time I heard/saw it stated publicly that travelers travel with a belief in the good of people. As a traveler, I also held this privately in my thoughts but never shared it out loud. It’s an interesting thing to bring into the light of consciousness, to explore the connection between that faith in people and traveling. I guess if a person believed the world to be a completely cruel place and thought of people as inherently bad, he or she would never venture to step outside their own door.

    1. Earl

      Hey Yev – The fact that the bag was returned is by far the most amazing part of this story. That possibility never even crossed our minds during the hours after the bag was stolen, not even once. But I’ll take that kind of surprise any day!

    1. Earl

      Luckily I was not in an internet cafe but I would have danced anyway if I had been. And for some unfortunate reason, my dancing tends to look more along the lines of something you’d find in a Bollywood film!

    1. Earl

      Hey Ayngelina – It is true that the negative experiences we have in life, which are typically much, much fewer than the positive ones, tend to affect our outlook to a much greater extent. I do believe the only way to change that is by starting to see the positive even when things seem to be going terribly wrong. It’s definitely helped in my situation above!

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  2. Osborne

    Here’s something that just happened to me and I have to write out. I was working as a nurse at a summer camp for children (I will not use any names in this story) and loving it. My immediate boss was in an atrocious mood yesterday and was looking to fire someone. I happened to be it – everyone was very confused why it was me, but hey I just went with it and kept a smile on my face while getting chewed out for some random things that I didn’t do. I was then forced to pack my stuff up with a very angry person glaring at me the whole time, then driven and dropped off on a random stretch of road where a bus was supposed to be 10 mins later. I waited an hour in the rain for a bus that never showed up. Realizing that the bus was not going to be showing up that night I walked myself and my luggage 20 mins up the road to a motel and got a room. I chatted with the hotel people some, told them I was from Texas and was currently stranded (I was in Pennsylvania). After getting my room and putting my stuff down the first thing I did was step outside and just breathe. Not five minutes later the owner comes over to me, offers me a small sum of my money back and then drives me an hour away to a different city to catch another bus to New York where I met up with a friend of a friend whom I have never met before. Now I’m in Virginia where I can start looking for another job. My faith in humanity was restored, I got to stay in 3 different states in 2 days, and even though I got fired I got to have a good time with it and came out with a decent story.

    Ozzy

    1. Earl

      Hey Osborne – All I can say is wow! That is one crazy adventure you just experienced. However, your positive attitude seems to have turned it from a potential disaster into an enjoyable situation and that is quite admirable. It’s such a great example of how our happiness really does depend on how we choose to perceive the events around us.

      I’m happy to hear your faith in humanity was restored as well and good luck with the job search in Virginia!

  3. Shannon OD

    Aww 🙁 This is such a sad story…sorry to hear that this happened to you and your friend, it is certainly easy to lose faith in humanity when major things go wrong. But glad to hear that the purse is back, and in the end, it’s just money and you both are safe, so there are pluses 🙂

    Safe travels down there and enjoy lunch with your new friend!

    1. Earl

      Thanks Shannon! It definitely started out as a sad story but I can honestly say it’s been nothing but positive since the documents have been returned!

  4. Lisis

    As I was reading this, particularly the first part about how impossible it is to pay a simple bill in some places, I found myself nodding and smiling. THIS is the reason why, despite my whole family being in Costa Rica, I do not live there. When I did, it seemed like *every* transaction was as exasperating as this. It blew my mind, and got on my last nerve. I decided it’s a great place to vacation, but not such a great place to get things done (this goes for most of Latin America).

    Now, as for the robbery… I have to say that, if you are in Latin America, you have to assume a completely different frame of mind. You can’t leave doors unlocked, keys (or stereos) in the car, or any valuables where they can be seen or picked up. You just can’t. And if you want to be mad at anyone in humanity, it shouldn’t be the petty thieves, but the sure ’nuff thieves higher up that make it nearly impossible for the rest of the population to even get by.

    But in the end, the crooks up high do what they do, the petty thieves do what they do, and if you have anything of value when you are hanging out in those parts, you have to do your part and keep it safe. It’s just how life is there.

    PS: I’m glad you got most of the stuff back. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Lisis! You couldn’t be more correct about how lengthy and complicated certain transactions are down here. Having to go to six different places to pay one credit card bill seems a bit excessive but in the end, that is really the norm and we should be happy we didn’t need to go to eight different places!

      As for the robbery, you definitely do need a different frame of mind, although it’s quite hard to train yourself to think “I will be crouching down in front of a flat tire for a minute and someone might therefore open the door to my car and steal my belongings”! But after an incident such as this (which was my first), it becomes easier to increase one’s awareness.

      Also, the more we think about it, the more we’re really not too angry at the actual thief…for someone to have made such a bold attempt, they must definitely be struggling to survive. And of course, corruption at higher levels (at every level I guess), plays a major role down here. I’m not sure if there is a single aspect of life down here that isn’t run by corruption to some degree. As a result, there is not one single person who isn’t affected by it.

      I hope you’re well Lisis and I’m glad you don’t have to worry about someone stealing your belongings up where you are!

  5. Anil

    I wish that all people were good, but I think most are products of their environment. When push comes to shove, what do we become? I think there is quite a bit of variation in people and wonder what direction it is heading. That said, I believe that most people are good or capable of it under the right circumstances.

    1. Earl

      Hey Anil – It does seem that all people are capable of being good but that ability is corrupted as time goes on, depending on what we are surrounded with. And once we’ve been corrupted, to whatever degree, it is a challenging path to undo the situation and return to that core.

      How do we change the circumstances?

      Perhaps we should look towards the cultures of people who tend to lead a kinder, more generous, caring and happy existence, such as the Tibetans. Instead of labeling their way of life as out-dated in our modern world, I’ve always felt that we should look a little more closely and try to benefit from the wisdom that helps them avoid much of the corruption that we fall victim to. Just an idea!

  6. Audrey

    Dan and I go back and forth on this topic a lot. I tend to believe that people are inherently good, but it can be difficult to believe this when you visit a place like Auschwitz or some of the Soviet jails in the Baltics. On the road, we’ve been the beneficiaries of kindness and generosity from people who have much less than us much more than we’ve experienced violence or thievery. I have a group of people and experiences in my head that I think about when something bad happens to remind me of the good in people.

    I’m so sorry that this happened to your friend and that you had such an awful day. Hope the rest of the week/weekend went much smoother.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Panorama of the Week- Malaysia- I Like to Eat on the Street =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – It is a challenge to maintain the belief that people are inherently good. I actually became a firm believer in the idea after my accidental meeting with Taliban members in Pakistan. One minute they were talking about killing people and the next minute they were nothing more than 20 year old kids, giggling, smiling, telling jokes, generously buying me food. I saw that despite some terrible actions, they were just ordinary people who wanted nothing more than a happy, healthy life. Unfortunately, sometimes, this natural goodness loses out to corruption, lack of education and lack of choice.

      Also, just like you mentioned, I have a great collection of memories and experiences to rely upon when bad situations occur. That thought alone puts a smile on my face and instantly reminds me of why I believe that people are good.

      And the rest of the week couldn’t have been any better! It was an amazing turnaround.

  7. Mark Lawrence

    Earl, what a wild ride of a story. I felt like I was there as I was reading it! Great ending to such an unfortunate story. Last week one of my best friend’s had his wallet stolen (in Chicago). This can happen anywhere. He was real upset not just at the loss of money, but the immense hassle. Hassle at having to call all his credit card companies and cancel the card. Hassle at all the missing important pieces of papers stuffed into his wallet, including his most recent paycheck, and the hassle of having to wait for 2 hours in line at the DMV to get another copy of his driver’s license. Anyways someone had found the wallet (cash missing) and returned it to the address on his paycheck that was still in the wallet! Oh the relief! There are definitely many good people in the world. Keep up the blog, and keep up the wandering and keep rocking out life!
    .-= Mark Lawrence´s last blog ..Success Needs No Excuse! =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – Thanks for sharing that story and I’m happy to hear that it also ended on a hugely positive note! The hassle involved with replacing the documents is definitely more frustrating than losing the money, so when the wallet or purse is magically returned, it doesn’t even matter that the money is gone. No longer having to deal with the hassle then makes it easier to appreciate the wonderful people who went out of their way to do a good deed and return the items!

  8. Mark

    Sorry you guys went through this whole ordeal Earl! I probably would’ve felt the same as you and would’ve wanted to throw in the “writing towel”…KUDOS to you for not doing it and sharing your story with us! As the saying goes, “What goes around comes around”…consequences always follow good or bad actions! Keep up the great work with your blog…always a treat to read. Cheers!

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – Thanks so much for your comment! It is interesting how a sudden burst of frustration or disappointment can affect us, although now I don’t understand how I could have considered putting an end to the blog.

      And you’re right, karma will play a role for sure…

  9. Nate

    What a day! I do believe that people are inherently good, but it’s hard to maintain that belief sometimes. Sometimes people are just so bad to one another. I usually find that when I’m frustrated with this ideology something happens to make me feel better. That’s why I’m so glad you shared this! My ordeals are not as extreme as this, though 🙂
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..meeting great people =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – People are indeed terrible to each other. I can’t argue with that. One glance at any news program or news website instantly confirms that unfortunately. But like you, I find that most negative situations are typically followed by a positive occurrence or multiple ones. In this particular case, we met a new friend (the girl who returned the purse) who happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And as a result, all of the negativity initially associated with the theft has completely vanished, leaving no remnants behind.

      It still blows my mind how this entire thing turned out so positive in the end!

  10. Bryce Capodieci

    Hey man, if you guys need some help… let me know. Sorry to hear about the unfortunate incident. Time to start slappin’ the base. That always makes me feel better.

    1. Earl

      Thanks Bryce! We’re all set but we appreciate the offer. And slappin’ the base (although I don’t have any songs by Rush on my computer) always brightens up the day…

  11. Brian Watson

    Hi Earl – I also think that people are inherently self-interested. The question for each person is whether or not they are, as the Dalai Lama puts it, “wisely selfish.” In other words, does an individual understand the interconnectedness among every sentient being, and how his/her actions toward others creates the world in which he/she lives. Are people creating a world in which they are robbed anytime they have a little surplus, or are they creating a virtuous world in which someone will help them anytime they stumble (or get a flat tire)? This is just another perspective on karma.
    .-= Brian Watson´s last blog ..Photo Friday- Hawaiian Wildlife =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Brian – The words of the Dalai Lama often play a role in my quests to understand the root of many situations in my life. I do believe strongly that good actions foster good actions and bad actions foster bad actions. And I also feel that the key is to not let our own approach to life (hopefully fostering good actions!) be affected by the negative actions of others. That is why I can only think/hope that the money was used wisely and for something essential. If I were to think otherwise or to constantly fill my mind with negative thoughts and reactions every time I thought about this incident, I’ll have lost my own way…

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts Brian!

  12. Kate @ Watsons Unleashed

    Hi Earl — So sorry to hear about your difficult day! Glad some positive came of it at the end.

    I believe that people are inherently self-interested. The words “good” and “bad” are too loaded for me to apply to the complexity that is an individual human being or humanity at large. Self-interest can at times encourage someone to do harm to another person (in this case, by stealing from you) but, in itself, it is not a bad thing. It ensures that people feed themselves and their children after all. As you mentioned, $1,000 isn’t the end of the world for you or your friend. Perhaps it was a matter of life and death for the people who stole from you, or perhaps they just perceived that it was. Desperate situations drive people to take desperate actions. Whether the situation was truly desperate — your money ensured that rent was paid to avoid eviction or that starving children were fed — or merely opportunistic, we’ll probably never know.

    I think you can safely go on believing that people are inherently good, however, because each of us believes that we are a good person and that our actions are justified. And if we’re wrong, there’s always karma… 🙂
    .-= Kate @ Watsons Unleashed´s last blog ..Photo Friday- Hawaiian Wildlife =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kate! Thank you so much for that excellent comment. And you’re right, as there are definitely things that we all do from time to time that we believe to be good/right, but which other people would probably disagree about. Of course, the farther an individual action is from the generally accepted rules of what is good, the harder it is for the majority of people to understand. Stealing a $1000 being one example.

      Although, after a couple of days of calm thinking, it did become easier to understand this action as I began to consider what would lead someone to attempt such a bold theft. Hopefully, this person needed the money much more than we did.

  13. AdventureRob

    Ahh, what a poor thing to happen. $1k is a huge amount to lose, I guess it was to buy something valuable like a vehicle? If not then it is a lesson in why you shouldn’t carry that sort of money around on you.

    At least the documents were returned, great hassle saver that.
    .-= AdventureRob´s last blog ..Ancient Crete Joins The Digital Age =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Rob – My friend and I each rarely carry cash around. I almost never have more than $20 worth of pesos on me at any given time. Unfortunately, we were paying a credit card bill for my friend’s family business and down here, that’s not as easy as a few clicks on the bank’s website. So we had to take out the amount in cash, drive a few minutes down the road to the next office and pay the bill. Clearly, that didn’t work!

  14. Andi

    Oh Earl, I’m sooo happy that the day ended on a semi-positive note. My legs were almost shaking too midway through the post! I have had a lot of these experiences throughout my travels. I choose to see them as lessons, but I know while I’m going through them I’m so angry with humanity. I hope that the person that stole the money just so desperately needed it and isn’t going to spend it on drugs or a new ipod. When it rains, it pours, huh? I send you and your friend big, big hugs filled with love.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..Love- Head Over Heels For The Amalfi Coast =-.

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much Andi! I also hope that the money was used to feed the person’s family or at least for essential expenses that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to cover. But of course we’ll never know.

      And I agree that this incident should be treated as a lesson, and I can say that in my 11 years of traveling, this is the first lesson of its kind I’ve faced. Apart from having a near-empty wallet stolen once in India, I’ve never faced anything like this.

      I find it inspiring that you’re able to have such a positive outlook despite having gone through so many similar situations throughout your travels. Very admirable indeed!

  15. Dave and Deb

    That is terrible. I am not as optimistic as you, It would hurt me greatly to loose $1000. It is awesome that your friend got her purse back with all the documents, but the $1000 loss is big for anyone.
    I am with Dina, I have a tendency to think that the flat tire might have been a set up when they saw you coming out of the bank.
    Glad to know that the quesadillas made everything all better. I would have needed a little more than that.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dave and Deb – I’m not sure how optimistic I’ll be from now! Even though I still believe that people are inherently good, I caught myself looking at everyone I passed today as I tried to assess whether or not I should be suspicious of their behavior. So it’s going to take some time for me to return to my earlier levels of optimism.

      And despite it ‘not being about the money’, there’s still no denying that losing $1000 stings for a while!

  16. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Moment’s Loss of Faith in Humanity | Wandering Earl -- Topsy.com

  17. Alan

    Wild story, Earl, but happy to hear things worked out, more or less. When I first started working in a restaurant, I was taken aback with how rude people can be, and in a similar fashion I temporarily lost faith in humanity.

    But then there were the old women that kept coming back to visit every Sunday afternoon. There was also that guy who left a ridiculously unnecessary tip.

    For every negative person out there, I’d like to think there are 2 (or 3 or 4) positive people.
    .-= Alan´s last blog ..Postcards- Flightster and a Spanking New Look =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – Your restaurant story reminds me of working on the cruise ships. One day I would be frustrated at all of the rude, angry people who should have been enjoying a wonderful vacation experience and the following day, I’d love my job because I met some of the nicest guests imaginable. And since I stayed on ships for almost five years, I guess that’s proof that the number of positive people is far greater than negative ones, just like you said.

      Enjoy the rest of your Africa adventure!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jennifer – Actually, every single credit card was still inside the purse. So now my friend just needs to go the bank on Monday, show here ID and they will re-activate everything. In the end it’s no big deal at all amazingly.

      And a Mexican meal pretty much puts a smile on my face no matter how the rest of the day has been going!

  18. Nate

    Yikes!! That was an absolutely horrible story…until the end 🙂

    However the purse got back to you is not too important..what’s important is it got back! Their definitely are some terrible things that happen in the world on a daily basis, but it’s certainly good to hear a story like this that does restore a little faith in humanity.
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Mindfulness and Traveling =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – It’s actually quite incredible because my friend and I have now become friends with the girl who found the purse. When we met yesterday, she was just such a nice person and we already have plans to meet up with her this coming week in one of the cafes in Playa del Carmen. So while it might have been an expensive way to find a friend, it has been nothing but a positive experience from the moment we received the phone call the other night!

  19. Dina

    Earl, I’m sorry for the bad day that you and your friend had today. I can imagine it must have been very frustrating. Maybe I don’t have faith in humanity as big as you. I once lived in a place that trickery is normal. We did our best to make ourselves difficult target, because many bad people takes action when opportunity arrives – we didn’t want to give that opportunity.

    This is just a maybe, a pessimistic thought regarding humanity. Maybe you and your friends were followed since you guys going in and out banks. Even worse, maybe the flat tire was a set up. I’m sorry to be this pessimistic, but I’ve seen more cruel trickery than that. Sometimes too cruel to be called merely a trick.

    And yes, I will receive the purse back as a sign of humanity that the thief has. He just need the money, he didn’t need anything else. He knows that replacing those cards and IDs is a big hassle. Did he leave the mobile phone in the purse?

    If I must get robbed, I will hope the robber just take the money and leave the rest.

    I think everybody has some good in themselves. Just the intensity is different each person. Sometimes it’s the goodness, sometimes merely being scared at the punishment.
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Top 8 Animal Street Signs from Australia and New Zealand =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – We actually thought about that ourselves. It seemed quite likely that it was an elaborate scheme that involved slashing the tire while we were in the bank and then following us until we pulled over. But when we went to fix the tire today, the man explained that the seam of the tire had begun to wear away. He said that it could not have been caused by a person. So that made us feel a little better, for some reason.

      And apparently, leaving the purse you just stole in a public place is a common practice down here. Someone explained to me that most thieves are not sophisticated enough to know how to get money from stolen debit/credit cards and it’s not as if the Mexican police are going to take fingerprints of the purse and then hunt down the criminal!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *