“Get your head out of the clouds!”
“You live in a dream world.”
“You need to get your feet back on the ground and start facing reality.”
“Life is hard, Carrie. You need to learn to deal with that.”
These comments, and phrases like these, have haunted me for much of my life. It seems like people are always trying to convince me that the world is a horrible place and that I have to face the “reality” of its horrors.
You see, I believe that we live in a pretty great world. Oh, the world has its problems – I am not blind to the suffering around me. I see the inequality, the suffering, the brutality and the unfairness in our world. I have lived through Columbine, 9/11 and the Aurora Theatre Shooting. I’ve seen the current devastation in Syria and I know the atrocities of the Holocaust are real. On a personal level, I have dated a con artist and had my heart trampled on by boys that promised to love me. I have lost friendships and seen loved ones die. My life has not been all sunshine and rainbows, and I don’t pretend that it’s all sunshine and rainbows in other parts of the world, either.
Life is about balance. There is good, and there is evil. There is light, and there is darkness. I just choose to look at the beautiful side of the coin most of the time.
Does that make me naïve and stupid?
It’s easy to say that the world is getting worse, not better, because our perspectives change as we go throughout life. I believe this is for two main reasons. First, our experiences shape our reality and change our perspectives as we mature. Second, our exposure to world events changes our perception.
Most American children have had pretty privileged lives and experiences, and our innocence shapes our worldview. When we are children, we don’t see much past our own tiny selves. We think the world revolves around us. We believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and we don’t really understand why our parents shake their heads while watching the evening news. As we grow up we are exposed to more truth and reality. We learn about war and poverty. We may even see it firsthand. We start to think the world is a scary place. It’s certainly scarier than when we were kids. We are seeing through adult eyes now. We know more. We see more. This contributes to our feeling that the world is getting worse.
We live in an increasingly connected world. We have access to news updates and video feeds from across the country with simply a Wi-Fi connection (or even 4G, if you’re in the right area). We get Amber Alerts on our smartphones. We see, hear, and feel the devastation of natural disasters just seconds after they happen. This level of connectedness and knowledge is as empowering as it is dangerous.
We can see the impact of information when we look back on the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was the first televised war, and was also the first war with infamously high public disapproval levels and massive public protests. There’s no question, looking back through our 20/20 hindsight lens, that the support (or lack thereof) of the Vietnam War was closely tied to the information and imagery the public was exposed to. Citizens could see the war, and they didn’t like what they saw. Was the Vietnam War more atrocious than any war that came before it, or were the protests spurred in part by the images they witnessed?
We see so much crime and heartache today that it sometimes feels as if the world is getting much, much worse than its ever been. Yet, crime is going down! Violent crime, rape, murder, kidnapping – all things we see daily and fear more than ever – are all decreasing. Our knowledge and exposure are going up, and thus our fear is heightened. The numbers show a different reality, though.
So what is reality?
More to the point, does it really matter?
There is more than enough suffering and devastation in the world to occupy my mind and heart full time. I could focus on the sadness and the despair. I could drink from the never-ending well of sorrow and never hit the bottom. There’s that much hardship in the world. There’s no end to it.
Yet, there is also beauty. I choose to focus my time and energy on drinking up sunlight and smiles. I see the hardships, yes, and I don’t deny them – but I also choose to see the kindness of strangers, the optimism and the hope, the inspiring compassion of my neighbors, and the never-ending strength of the human spirit. Some people look down on me for that. They say I’m denying reality. They say I live in a dream world.
The people that say the world is getting worse may very well be right. But what’s the benefit of believing that?
Ultimately, I want to improve the world regardless of whether it is currently beautiful and improving, or awful and getting worse. I can continue to try to convince the rest of the world what I believe, or I can accept that others think society is terrible and getting worse every day and let them have that belief.
The question of the basic condition of the world – good versus evil – is irrelevant to me. It doesn’t really matter who is right on this issue. The end result is that I will be working to improve the world from its current position regardless of others’ opinions.
I like living with my head in the clouds. It’s brilliant up here. I know I can do great things from this height.
“Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects. Pessimism is a waste of time.” – Norman Cousins