There are a lot of terrible things going on in the world. Every day the news barrages us with stories of racism, sexism, war, genocide, environmental destruction, political corruption and much, much more. This fear-based diatribe is so persistent that it often takes up residence in our psyche.
People use a variety of techniques to deal with this situation. Some choose to commiserate with friends and colleagues, creating a feedback loop of complaint that perpetuates negativity and pessimism. Others choose to avoid the news completely so that they limit their exposure to clickbait headlines. Some new-age-types use spiritual bypassing to cover the negativity with false positivity, convinced that if they say enough affirmations or create a beautiful vision board then world peace will magically occur. Others, like Steven Pinker, take a data-based approach, using statistics to argue that we are living in the safest and most peaceful era in human history.
Personally, I’ve sampled from all of these perspectives, but none of them feels quite right. After a lot of reflection, I seem to have settled on a slightly different approach - an approach that I call “hopeful not-knowing.”
Why do I have hope? Because I have faith in humanity.
Before you run off thinking I’m naive, take a second to hear me out. Yes, humans have spent thousands of years brutally murdering each other and ravaging mother earth. Yes, humans regularly enact unthinkable cruelties. And yes, terrible things happen to good people every single day.
Bottom line? Humans regularly act from a place of greed, competition, and corruption.
Many people take this as evidence that humanity is doomed. They suggest that all of this competition and fighting is simply “human nature.” You know, survival of the fittest and all that jazz.
But I don’t buy it.
It’s not that I disagree with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Quite the opposite. I believe that humans have the potential to evolve into a much more magnificent species than we already are.
Let’s focus for a moment on our magnificence. First, the fact that we have 7 billion people living on this planet, and we haven’t annihilated ourselves yet, is nothing short of a miracle. Think about it. Knowledge exists about how to build nuclear bombs and germ warfare and probably all sorts of other terrible weapons that most of us are not aware of. Yet despite all of our fighting, whether it’s over skin color or land or religion, we have somehow managed to avoid making ourselves extinct.
Score one for humanity!
Seriously though. I realize that there are wars going on all over the place, there are people murdering and raping, there are children dying and there are people suffering. But there are also billions of people who go about their lives every day without seriously harming a soul. And a substantial portion of these people are actively working toward making the world a better place, whether that means starting a non-profit or helping an elderly person with their groceries.
We’re led to believe that there are predators, murderers, and other types of “evil” people all around us. But how many murderous, evil people do you know? How many of these types of people do you actually encounter on any given day, month or year? The truth is that most of us are surrounded by “regular” people who are simply doing their best to get through this mystery we call life.
Let’s also consider the epic discoveries and innovations that humans have made over the last few thousand years. We made tools, learned how to farm, discovered laws of physics, built cars and airplanes, performed heart transplants, cured many diseases, put people on the moon, and harnessed technology to create computers that might eventually outsmart us. I mean, look around you right now. If you’re reading this blog, you have access to the internet (something that would have been considered magic a hundred years ago), you’re probably sheltered and warm, and you’ve probably eaten a meal today.
My point? The scope of human accomplishment is absolutely incredible. And as far as species go, I’d say we’re pretty kickass.
It’s not that accomplishment is everything, especially given that sometimes our progress has come at a cost - to the environment, to animals and to other humans. But what this progress highlights is humanity’s ability to innovate in the face of challenge.
Our current challenges aren’t much different from challenges we’ve faced in the past. For thousands of years humans have faced the challenge of staying alive in a sometimes difficult environment. We’ve had to ask tough questions, innovate answers, change our worldview, and work together to find solutions.
I firmly believe that we have the intellectual, technological, and soul-full capability to meet current challenges related to the environment, politics, and all of the other issues we face. Our innate curiosity, combined with our drive to survive, has created a species and a world that, for all its challenges, is immensely resourceful and beautiful.
And while humans sometimes lean toward greed, competition, and corruption in a “survival of the fittest” fashion, we also have tendencies toward altruism, support, and cooperation. We are a social species, and deep within our bones/genes we know that we cannot survive alone. We need each other.
Which is why we’ve evolved to have two very important capabilities: self-regulation and the ability to choose our behavior.
Our ability to self-regulate and choose wisely means that, with practice, we can become aware of our tendencies and choose which way to go. We can choose competition, or we can choose cooperation.
Author Charles Eisenstein suggests that humanity has the potential to enter a new, cooperative story of interbeing. In this new story, humanity recognizes the deep interconnection that exists between all of us and everything around us. Interbeing suggests that we are part of a vast web of existence, and that every choice we make, from buying a plastic water bottle to admitting our true feelings to whistleblowing in a corrupt company, has consequences that go far beyond our individual lives. Eisenstein describes it this way:
“In the [interbeing] worldview, self and universe mirror each other; whatever happens to any being is also happening in some corner of ourselves. Every act we take ripples out to affect the whole world, and eventually comes back to affect ourselves as well.”
There are ecovillages and communities around the world that are experimenting with living this way (check out Tamera in Portugal for an example). These aren’t cults with charismatic leaders who are going to ask you to drink the Kool-Aid. These are down-to-earth people who are hopeful about humanity’s ability to co-exist peacefully with each other and with mother earth.
Why do I have faith in humanity? Because we are an incredible species. Because we have the ability to choose cooperation. Because every day, around the world, there are people doing their part to make the world a better place (check out the Good News Network for examples). Because we have encountered seemingly insurmountable difficulties in the past, and we have survived. We’ve explored outer space and inner space. We’ve built villages, cities, and nations that are doing their best to keep going. We have innovated, cooperated, and assisted each other to become a world of 7 billion people.
7 billion people who have somehow, against all odds, managed to survive, thrive, and avoid going extinct (yet).
The word “yet” is rather important here.
Remember that I described my current perspective on humanity as “hopeful not-knowing.” The not-knowing part means that while I choose to remain hopeful, things could go either way. Humanity could annihilate itself, or we could enter a new stage of evolution. We might begin to fully acknowledge our deep interconnection, or we might go extinct. Being in the unknown means fully acknowledging that humanity might eventually meet its end. This is part of the mystery of being human. We don’t know why we’re here and we don’t know how long we have.
With this in mind, why not choose to be hopeful? Why not choose to believe that we can use our big human brains for good? Why not choose interbeing in small and large ways?
When I teach undergraduate courses on positive psychology and transpersonal psychology, I emphasize that these topics are about doing the best we can with what we have available to us. We don’t ignore difficulty. We accept it as part of being human and we get creative about how to cope (and how to reach our fullest potential).
We need to realize that humanity is not either/or. We are both/and. In other words, humanity is not good or bad. Humanity is not competitive or cooperative. Humanity is both and all. We need to fully acknowledge the light, the dark, and the mystery of our human predicament.
When we focus solely on the doom and gloom perspective, we give away our power. Our power to choose.
We have the power to choose interbeing in small ways every day, because from the perspective of interbeing, even the smallest acts have an impact:
The one time you bring a reusable bag to the grocery store.
The one time you help someone in need.
The one time you give someone the benefit of the doubt.
The one time you see a stranger as a colleague instead of competitor.
The 5 minutes you spend meditating for peace.
The deep breath you take before yelling at the sales clerk.
The vote you cast to instigate change.
The animal you rescue from a shelter.
The way you touch your lover with intention.
The way you choose to spend your money.
The 15 minutes you take away from work to console a friend in need.
The one time you choose hope over hatred.
All of these actions are sacred. All of them impact our web of interconnection in ways that we do not fully understand.
Imagine all of these one times, enacted 7 billion times.
This is why I have faith in humanity.
P.S. Here are four sweet songs that I listen to when I need inspiration to speak up, keep going, and renew my hope in humanity:
José González, Stay Alive
Xavier Rudd, Spirit Bird
James Vincent McMorrow, Higher Love (cover of Steve Winwood’s original)
Photo by Carlos ZGZ