Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I am frequently asked how I can always be so optimistic

Three times in the last three weeks alone, and by family members- which was a large part of the inspiration for this post. I've been called "Pollyanna" and "dreamer" more times than I can count, but they are wrong; I can recognize evil when I see it. But still, I believe in Man. I believe because I'm a realist.

That statement makes many a jaw drop. I am often told that "reality" is that Man is part of nature, red of tooth and claw, and has the reddest teeth and claws of them all. Just look at the news, I'm told. But the "news" is not reality- it is sensationalism designed to sell a product- that is reality.

I have often touted Robert Heinlein's This I Believe . Here are some quotes:

"I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime, yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest decent kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up, business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news; it is buried in the obituaries --but it is a force stronger than crime."

"I believe in the patient gallantry of nurses...in the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land."

"I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones."

"I believe that almost all politicians are honest. For every bribed alderman there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true, we would never have gotten past the thirteen colonies."

But those words were written more than fifty years ago, and he wasn't a young man when he wrote them, I'm told- things are different today. Are they really? Consider this story , "Girl, 11, Finds $1,000 Floating in Ocean" The incident: "While swimming in the surf in Ocean City, Md., Rowan Short of Brandywine Hundred found a Ziploc bag containing two credit cards, a Pennsylvania driver's license and more than $1,000 cash." What happened? "Her mom used a cell phone to call 411, got the number of the driver named on the license, and placed a call to Elaine and Michael Chosky in Pittsburgh." They went out of their way to return it.

Of course there are a few people like that, but what would most people do? Reader's Digest decided to find out. They designed a test : they "lost" wallets- "In each we put a name, local address and phone number, family pictures, receipts -- and $50 in cash.

We dropped 120 wallets -- ten each in three large cities, three major suburban areas, three medium cities and three small towns. We left them in parking lots, malls, bus stops and on sidewalks. Then we waited to see what would happen. To each person who returned the wallet, we offered the $50 as a reward.

This was no rigorous scientific study but rather a real-life test of integrity. Would people in small towns return the wallets more often than those in big cities? Old folks more than young? Women more than men?"

The results? In one of those cities, Moncton N.B., all ten of the wallets were returned intact- and one of the honest men was a lawyer! (Paging Diogenes) People from all walks of life went out of their way to return the wallets- even homeless people and poor people with families who needed the money. Two thirds of the wallets were returned intact. When the test was repeated in America, the results were the same. In Europe, the numbers dropped, but were still more than half- and two Scandinavian cities hit 100% They repeated the tests with cell phones and got the same results. Even the 68% honesty rating reported is low in one respect: "Even those who kept the wallets still had a conscience, judging by the furtive glances and the attempts at concealment many of them made as they left the scene." They knew right and wrong; they were simply weak. I'd wager, from incidents I've seen, that if the empathy quotient had been raised- say someone crying and obviously looking for the wallet or phone- 90% would have been returned.

I'm not blind to evil; I just put it in perspective. Humankind is decent and good. Evil- even the petty evils- are the aberration, not the norm. I do not confuse results with motivations. I know it's conventional wisdom in the UU blogs that Bush is evil, but he's not; he's simply wrong. I believe that our current Presidential choices are between good and better, not good and bad. I believe in Abraham Lincoln's words, "If you tell the people the truth, they'll do the right thing." I believe that with every passing year of the information age, more and more people will become aware of more and more truths, and do more right things. I believe that a golden age of Man is no longer a pie in the sky, nor even the dreams of our grandchildren, but within the grasp of today's children, if they will but reach for it.

Go ahead and call me Pollyanna. I'm comfortable in that role.


Anonymous said...

I don’t think it’s that you’re a Pollyanna. You’re a Hoosier. Molly Ivins once said that people from Indiana are terminally optimistic. I don’t know about the “terminal” part, but looking back at my growing up years near Ft. Wayne, it does seem there was a high percentage of people with a generally positive and hopeful view of the world.

Joel Monka said...

Lol, maybe so. I'll add that to other Hoosierisms, like tenderloin sandwiches and playing eucre.

Anonymous said...

eww I love eucre, I majored in eucre in college.

I think this post is great, I found myself nodding along with most of what you wrote. And I think there is a very, very important distintion you made in the evil vs. wrong argument.

Lots of us make wrong decisions, I for one freely admit that I have made wrong decisions that have probably caused people pain, and that have certainly caused me pain.

Thanks for posting this.

gypsy-heart said...

Me too..and I am quite comfortable with it!

I read some of your other posts and I very much enjoyed my visit.

There's a Good energy here. :)

Joel Monka said...

Thanks, Dubhlainn. No surprise that you, as a fellow Pagan, would catch the undertone about wrong decisions, and the personal responsibility for them.

Thank you, too Gypsy-heart. Did you check out the label "My Pagan beliefs"? BTW, I checked out your blog- what wonderful imagery! I can see I'll have to visit often.