Do you feel like the world is going crazy? Does it seem to you like it is getting worse year after year? People are less friendly, less helpful, less open, less caring?
That is certainly one picture with which we are presented day after day. But there is yet another picture: One that says we care more and the world is doing better than ever before.
Here at home, the FBI reports that crime is at an all-time low (it has been dropping for many years). Millions more adults compared to a few years ago receive health care. Millions of children do, too. The Humane League reports that hundreds of US restaurants and food purveyors are working together to make food production involving animals much less cruel.
Abroad, the Paris Accord brought hundreds of nations together to stem climate change. The World Giving Index records that at least twenty-five percent of the adult world population gives charitably and extends a helping hand, even to strangers. The World Health Organization reports that half as many people die of starvation or related issues than some decades ago and we can expect these numbers to continue to go down.
According to the Global Terrorism Database, fewer acts of terrorism are committed worldwide than in the 1970’s. According to the Homeland Security Research Program, there are fewer deaths attributable to war than at any time in history.
These are but a few of the examples that show that the world is better than we think. Most of us are unaware of this because we are being presented with a warped picture that shows us everything that is wrong and almost none of what is right or getting better.
Yet, it is in our power to change that. Not by sticking our heads in the sand, but by increasing our field of vision.
The poet Edwin Markham struck upon a profound truth in his famous epigram.As I wrote in this post, our picture of the world changes drastically when we draw a circle of attention large enough to include everything: The bad, the indifferent, but also all the good. We strike upon a new realization.
There is enough beauty, enough love, enough joy in the world to make us happy.
Paying attention mostly to what is troubling isn’t actually being realistic; it is being negatively biased. When we look at the whole picture we find that in addition to life’s pain and frustration there is stunning beauty, goodness, and honesty.
The most realistic way to see the world is “warts and all”.
Too often the warts get all our attention. For us to also notice the good around us is not escapist or fantasy because goodness is a big part of our daily lives. The truth about the world is that it is dynamic—light, dark, black, white, and every shade and hue in between.
When we begin to notice everything, we see the good in addition to life’s pain and frustration. And when we’re happy, we are not the only ones to benefit because, as human beings, we naturally like to pay it forward.
We enter a feedback loop: We notice the good around us and naturally contribute goodness to the world, feeling and creating happiness along the way. When we notice that the world is better than we thought, we almost unwittingly, become change agents who make the world better than it was.
As we cultivate an eye for the good around us, we can’t help but discover that the world is better than we think. Developing an eye for the good in the world isn’t in any way like putting on rose-colored glasses or positive thinking because it does not deliver a false happy picture of the world. Instead, it creates a more accurate picture because everything is being noticed.
For example, noticing the good around you does not ask you to ignore a man stooped over a cardboard sign that says “HUNGRY.” Instead, it encourages you to expand your field of vision, to not only see (and often avert your eyes from) what’s wrong but to also consciously capture the myriad things around you that express the goodness of life. The unexpected smile flashed by a passerby; a girl’s gorgeous red hair; a toddler putting an arm around a little boy’s shoulders; the romance of a treehouse in a shady lane, all have the potential to send delight through you like bubbling champagne.
Once you begin to look for it, you are almost surprised by how much beauty and goodness that had previously escaped your notice is right under your nose. And make no mistake about it, human beings, aside from everything else, are also good, very good.
For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, over 60 million people in the United States, alone, did good by volunteering. That is roughly twenty-five percent of our adult population; you are likely one of them.
As I wrote in The World Is Better Than You Think, upon observation of a regular day, it becomes obvious that we are good every single day. Because without our—without your—goodness, integrity, and cooperation, society as we know it would grind to a halt (it actually would never have gotten off the ground in the first place)! Without our social contract of trust and cooperation, even a simple thing like buying cookies at the bakery would be a complicated endeavor of having to clutch our wallets, count the change, look in the bag. And without our social contract of trust, using our debit and credit cards, where would we even start to try and achieve a measure of protection?
Or, imagine dropping your children off at daycare. Without trusting in the basic goodness of humanity, there’s be no way you could do it. It is true, on occasion something awful happens, but most of the time, things go well between us human beings—we’re fair, we’re honest, we come through, we are worthy of each other’s trust. And most of the bad news with which we are bombarded is, for the most part, just titillation.
When we listen past cynicism and alarm and worry, we can hear our loving hearts beat with undying hope and faith in life and our future. When we look beyond popular perception, we discover that…
…in uncountable interactions, every day, we do the right thing with total integrity.
That’s what makes the world go round: the countless actions we take and transactions we make,
in good faith, with honesty and integrity, and very often with love.
No amount of difference can cancel out what we can, and do, accomplish together and what we have in common: the undeniable fact of our kinship. We don’t always do right, we make mistakes, go down a dark path, we become divided, but even so, we are always kin, to each other and to all of life. A quick comparison of the DNA of all life forms shows us that.
And those in which goodness seems buried, well-placed love can tap its well.
Of course, we all have horns, but we need something to hang our halos on, don’t we?