“The world is a mess!” Have you ever said it? Ever thought it?
“What is going on?” I breathed these words through my teeth earlier this week as I looked at Google News. Another news story began to eat away at my slowly declining positive outlook on life at that moment. I also had been chatting earlier on the phone to a friend who had stated: “The world has gone mad, it’s falling apart!” I caught myself slowly nodding my head.
So what happened? Well, the increasing death toll from Covid-19 had been playing on my mind and, when I saw the statistic that we had more deaths here in the UK than in the whole of the EU, my heart sank. Not only was I disappointed – I was angry. I was looking for someone to blame and, of course, my first thought was Boris.
Then there was the whole Dominic Cummings saga. I looked at the press conference in disbelief and shook my head with complete bafflement at his explanations and lack of apology. I wasn’t angry that he did not resign – only because I knew that he wouldn’t.
Then, in the US, the death of George Floyd occurred and I watched with mixed feelings as people took to the streets to protest against police brutality and the nature of his death. I say mixed feelings because (a) I was delighted to see people of all colour and creed take to the streets all over the world to exercise the civil right to protest but (b) we were still in the midst of a pandemic and my worry was these protests would contribute to a second wave of the virus.
Then President Trump decided to take a walk from the White House to a nearby church, whilst getting the security and police to violently remove peaceful protesters from the path he would walk. What does he do then? He holds up a Bible and says “We have a great country.” No quote from Jesus about love or peace or forgiveness or standing up for the poor. Just a: “We have a great country.”
I also got caught up in the twitter storm about J. K. Rowling’s comments regarding gender identity and transgender, reading the bile and venom that was being poured on her for expressing an opinion. Then I read about China and India beginning to make preparations for war due to border issues, a conflict that could have nuclear ramifications. Next, I read that North Korea had blown up the embassy shared with South Korea, putting an end to any relationship between the two countries. And finally, the UK government made a massive U-turn on their policy about free-school meals due to a letter that was written by Marcus Rashford (or Daniel as one minister called him!) to Boris Johnson ( I was annoyed that the government had even thought to not give free meals to our most vulnerable young people!) And don’t get me started about the rave in Kirkby!!!
So is the world in a mess? No, it is not. Why not?
Here are my reasons:
Firstly, if you read the above again and look at the photos in the main picture, they are mainly referring to events that happened in five countries. That is not the world. First lesson for me is perspective.
Comments like “The world is not what it used to be!” or “”The world is worse than ever!” are generalisations. We generalise when we want to express extreme emotions. We clump everyone and everything together so we have a nice big target to aim all our anger, rage and disappointment. Poor young people come out the worst: “Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They…have no self-control.” That line was written on a six-thousand-year-old Egyptian tomb!! Even then, people generalised!! We often think there was a golden age of respect and tolerance and great moral values. Nope, not in this life!
Secondly, a number of studies over the last number of years are pointing out that the world is healthier, richer, safer, more equal and generally better off than it was at any other point in time. Poverty and child-mortality is declining. The number of wars and armed conflicts have fallen. Democracy is increasing. The average life expectancy today is 72.23 years — double the number than a hundred years ago! There is incredible progress in technology, science and in medicine. But most of us may not be aware of these facts. Why not?
This leads to my third reason. Our media thrives on bad news and we can’t help but keep watching and reading it. Think about it – when you read a post on Snapchat or Twitter that involves everyone insulting and slagging each other, don’t you just want to get the popcorn, make yourself comfy and enjoy the back and forward between the warring parties? Or when an event happens that is shocking or awful, do you find yourself watching and re-watching videos, twitter feeds, checking different news sources for more information, so much so that you get dragged down emotionally and mentally? We are interested in gossip and dramatic stories and this craving for drama causes misconceptions and helps create an over-dramatic worldview. We just love drama!!
So what can help us to be more balanced in our outlook on the world? The following have really helped me.
Firstly, just as mindfulness has now become popular in helping us deal with anxiety and stress, some commentators are proposing “factfulness” in regards to the news. We need to be more cautious with what we watch and what we read. There is a lot of selective reporting and invested interests in reporting today. Headlines are often misleading. Pope Saint John Paul II once said: “Great, also, is the responsibility of all those who work in this field, called to provide always accurate information, respectful of the dignity of the human person and attentive to the common good.” Hmmmm.
So I have tried to be more careful about what I read and watch. Reading Google News during the week was a mistake – I had stopped using it as it was giving me the most dramatic and ridiculous news items to read. Instead of watching the news or reading lots of news websites, I had decided some time ago to just use Associated Press (AP) news – it is more factual and a lot of news agencies use it as a source and then add their own frills to it.
Secondly, I had to ask myself “Why do I need to know what is going on in the world all the time?” What difference does it make to my life that Prince Harry and Meghan are having trouble living in Canada? How will my life be impacted greatly by countless investigations into Dominic Cummings trip up north? What difference will it make to me if I miss out on the next ridiculous gaffe by Donald Trump? The answer is very little. If it is important enough, I will hear about it. Often, getting caught up in news feeds and news stories can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, worry and pessimism. Why? Because we can’t change anything about these events. So why worry about what we cannot change!! And why worry about a future we don’t even know! As Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
Lastly, I believe in the goodness of people. One of the questions my atheist friends would often ask me was: “Why is there so much evil in the world if God exists?” I would ask a question in return: “Why is there so much good in the world if God doesn’t exist?” They thought I had to explain the problem of evil but they had to explain the “problem” of good! It is very hard to explain why we have a moral sense of good and evil without making some reference to God. So when I stopped keeping track of all the news, I began to notice that I was looking at life differently. Since my head wasn’t taken up with world politics or the threat of nuclear war, I could see people and situations in a different light. My mood was lighter and more positive because I began to notice the incredible examples of good in my life that were all around me – in my family, my community, my school and amongst my friends.
And in this period of lockdown, we have seen it in buckets! We have seen amazing generosity and kindness in our local communities and in our country. There is so much good out there! And there is so much good news too! Just today I was speaking with a parent who is in a desperately tragic situation and she told me how overwhelmed she has been with people’s goodness and love. People are good!
But I am realistic. I am not denying that there is a lot of evil and terrible suffering in the world. There is. But we must keep some perspective. We must accept there is great good too. The illustration below by Charlie MacKesy gets across this point nicely. Perspective.