When I was in high school, I was consistently demoralized with the state of the world.
I would go to parties and then feel depressed for days. The kids at those parties were bloodthirsty, rude, and in deep depression. They’d readily share their hopeless outlook on life. They’d snarl and hate and make me feel like trash. I would leave, wondering if the world was going to be like this forever.
It wasn’t. High schoolers struggle deeply, and my fears were unfounded. Now in my early adulthood, I have friends who teem with life, humor, and joy. We all continue to struggle on some level, but we’re grownups and we see our therapists. We are committed to Good Living, and we find it.
My perspective was skewed because all I saw was depression and selfishness. It wasn’t a reflection of the world as a whole, just my microcosm.
I believe — and hear me out — that we do the same thing with our perspective of the world.
Almost everyone I know is miserable about the future of humanity. “People are trash,” they say. “No one is kind anymore. No one actually cares about anyone else. People are just obsessed with image and their own comfort.”
I once chatted with a niece. We were talking about a recycling initiative at her school. We talked about climate change, about saving the planet.
“If we should even care,” my niece said.
“Huh?” I said.
“Well, we don’t deserve the world, do we?” she said. “People are horrible.”
I wondered where she’d heard that — and then I wondered if she’d seen that. Had she taken a look at the world around her and decided we should all go up in smoke?
While it’s a disturbing thought, I know she isn’t alone in feeling this way.
In a similar vein, I think of all the people I know who grew up in microcosms. My one friend who only knew depressed, vulgar alcoholics. In his small town, roughness and gunge were the norm. Another friend grew up rich, pampered, and didn’t believe racism existed until she was 33. She once said to me, “My God, I had no idea how prissy I was until I moved to the city.”
When you grow up with a small perspective, you can assume the whole world is what you see in real life — plus what you see on TV.
Microcosms are everywhere, and our only window into the whole world is — typically — media.
Seeing Is Believing
Pause for a second and think about Mother Theresa. What makes her so special in our eyes? Was it the incredible kindness, her beautiful quotes?
Or because we believed she was one-in-a-million?
Mother Theresa is now widely considered the opposite of Hitler. She’s revered. She’s on posters. The funny thing about Mother Theresa, however, is that she wasn’t unusual.
Think about that, for a minute. Did you assume she was one of just twenty people, out of seven billion, who was actually doing a good job at being human?
She was wonderful, but she isn’t as unique as most people think. We are aware of Mother Theresa because of excessive media coverage. For whatever reason, we decided to make her a star.
We still treat her as the one and only. Like another Mother Theresa will never come around again. The reality was, Mother Theresa's are everywhere. Working hard, passionately, all day long. The reason we don’t hear about them is salability. The kind woman in your neighborhood who has fostered twenty-two teenagers isn’t going to get on the news.
Our perspective on who is good and who is “trash” is skewed. Media has created a microcosm of cruel humanity, and we’ve fallen for it. The world is far from perfect, but it isn’t as bad as we think.
Consider this for a second — bad news sells. Celebrities are often narcissists, which is what drove them to fame in the first place. Reality TV tends to attract weird, backstabbing personalities, people who want attention more than privacy.
The people filling our magazines, articles, and shows, then, are Narcissists, Murderers, and Backstabbers.
It’s easy to turn on the news or a reality TV show and leave in disgust. “Ick. Is the whole world like this?” It can be so easy to believe in an evil world, because evil is all our televisions seem to show us. The reality is, even though cruel and selfish people do exist, good souls also exist in droves.
They’re “boring,” though.
Their world is humble, small-scale, and known only by the few people they help. If we could see the glow of their goodness from outer space, however, I think we’d find the world a hell of a lot brighter.