Talking with a friend on the phone this weekend, I was bemoaning all that was wrong with the world – including but not limited to the anti-masking/anti-vaxxing crowd, the tragic and unnecessary deaths from Covid – and of patients denied spaces in hospitals because of unnecessary cases of Covid, violence, suicide, the insanity of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the ensuing denial, the lopsided coverage of young Gabby Petito’s disappearance/homicide compared with non-white, non-pretty missing women and murder victims, and so on. My gloomy litany provoked my friend to say, “You need to get out more.”
And she’s right. I do need to get out more. I need the natural social interaction we all had prior to March 2020. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon thanks to my personal circumstances and the continued obliviousness of many of my fellow citizens.
Why are so many people convinced that the world revolves around them?
When I was a kid, I was sure we’d all have personal jetpacks by the year 2000. Flying cars would follow not long afterward.
I also thought war would be out of the picture, cancers would have cures, money would be obsolete (I was a big fan of the original “Star Trek”), and I would marry George Harrison on my 16th birthday. (We were going to have six sets of twins, and I had names picked out for them all.)
I guess I’m not really surprised that none of my expectations came true. After all, the chances of even meeting George were infinitesimal. (And the more I learned about biology, the more I realized the rarity of producing six sets of twins and the less I wanted to go through six pregnancies anyway.)
But what has surprised me is how far we’ve gone in opposite directions. Instead of jetpacks, we’ve stuck to fossil fuels with a tight grip, even though more environmentally friendly forms of energy have been available and improving for years. Thank goodness we never got flying cars, considering how poorly people drive on roads – and can you imagine the madness of drunk drivers in the air?
Instead of wars subsiding, they have proliferated. Nation after nation has found new internal and external enemies to hate. Each conflict brings with it new heights of horror and disrespect for fellow human beings.
We’ve made progress on some cancers, but more have come to light. Better medicine means clearer diagnoses, and mysterious ailments have gained names but not necessarily positive treatments. And in today’s political climate, physicians and scientists – formerly respected and authoritative – are questioned and dismissed by smartphone warriors who don’t believe in science.
As for money, it has evolved beyond coins and paper currency and checks to stacks of plastic that – in conjunction with retailers and unscrupulous financial entities – suck undereducated and brainwashed consumers into economic peril. And I still need someone to explain Bitcoin to me.
What is behind this dire situation? Why are we in such a mess? Is it capitalism? Socialism? Big Pharma? The military-industrial complex? A secret fraternity of the wealthy? Alien abductions?
One main culprit comes to mind: human nature.
In case you haven’t noticed, humans are greedy, selfish, jealous, cruel and hateful. You see that in your neighborhoods, your offices, your grocery stores, your news stories and sometimes in your houses of worship.
Fortunately, humans can also be generous, selfless, respectful, kind and loving. You see that in your neighborhoods, your offices, your grocery stores, your news stories and sometimes even in your houses of worship.
The rise of narcissism in our society has made some folks wary of putting others first, lest they be used and abused. That’s a reasonable concern. No one wants to feel exploited.
But there is strong evidence that serving others, or just thinking of others, first brings satisfaction to the giver. The multitalented physician, musician and theologian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer said, “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” He also said, “The only ones among you who will really be happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
Even our beloved poet and living legend Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
We can serve others by stepping forward and doing or giving. We can also serve by stepping back, listening and then processing what we hear instead of acting on whatever whim comes out of our self-centered heads.
I may be idealistic, but I think if we have the will, we can do that.
Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.