All’s right with the world

There’s a conversation I seem to have with my wife on an alarmingly regular basis. We’re not the most philosophical or political people, Sarah and I, so it’s rare enough for us to be talking about important events and ideas. But whenever something bad happens – something really bad, Philpott bad, Newtown bad – we absorb the news in very different ways.

For Sarah the obvious conclusion, to the man-made catastrophes, at least, is that whatever has happened is yet more proof, if proof be needed, of the wickedness of humanity. And it’s difficult, on some levels, to argue with. Look at Syria today, Sri Lanka a few years back, most places in the world at some point during the twentieth century, and you’ll find yourself face to face with man’s inhumanity to man. What look like one-off acts of evil in Connecticut or Derby take on even broader significance through the prism of conflict, and human nature acquires a very dark hue indeed.

But I disagree. If you’ve read any of my posts you’ll know I’m not generally disposed to see the sunny side of people (apart from here, I suppose, but I was in an uncharacteristically charitable mood that day). The thing is, though, that’s specific people, usually famous people, people in positions of authority. As far as people in general go, I’m all for them.

Because look, for every one person that wants to go out there and kill and rape there are hundreds, maybe thousands, that don’t just sit there and shake their heads, or write to their local MP and complain, or write a blog and moan about it, but actually get out there and do something to make a difference. The volunteer lifeboatmen. The people cleaning up the beaches. The foster carers. The doctors who could sit there comfortable and secure and happy but instead fly out to Afghanistan and risk their lives treating the sick (Karen Woo is another hero of mine). The people you see on the fringes of some natural disaster, people who’ve come from miles away, from the other side of the world, who turn up unpaid and unlooked for and go quietly about their business saving people’s lives and making things a little better. The people who spend all their free time working for a charity (props to Moma Loz at KIK), working to help someone else, for no personal gain and no motivation at all except the obvious one we don’t talk about as often as we should: that making things better for other people is, quite simply, a good thing to do.

Think about it. These people are everywhere. I don’t have the numbers; I could make them up – everyone else on the internet seems to, but this time it doesn’t even seem necessary, it’s so obvious. We know about the bad guys, about every individual one, because they’re so bad and, in comparison, so rare. The good guys are everywhere. We don’t hear about them because they’re not news, unless they’re shot or kidnapped or do something so extraordinary that even the BBC have to acknowledge their existence, and they’re not news precisely because they’re everywhere.

So cheer up, you miserable bastards. God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.

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If you liked this, please comment and share, and don’t forget to take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Care here.

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9 comments

  1. Lovely post, Joel. Many thanks. No time today to do it justice by way of response. Miss Flack puts it better anyway…

    1. Thanks Jay. Hope things are settling down to mildly crazy in Cyprus. You’d be surprised (or wouldn’t) how quickly news media have “moved on”.

    2. Great track. Shivers down my spine.

  2. Unfortunately, from what I’ve experienced, true “volunteer lifeboatmen” seem so to be really rare. Surely, there are more of them than there are Adam Lanzas, but rare enough that I don’t think I’d ever use them as evidence that all is right with the world.

    1. I bet you’re just looking in the wrong places!

  3. Well, I am still in high school so the proportion of people you’re describing is probably less in my circles than in yours. I sure hope you’re right!

    1. Ok, but what about people who volunteer at your school? They may not be risking their lives, (at least, I hope not) but they’re still doing something without any obvious payout.

  4. Obvious payout= resume booster. Unfortunate, but usually true. Do you think someone with selfish ulterior motives for her altruism is just as admirable as someone who is truly selfless? I think there’s a clear distinction there.

    1. There’s the old argument that if doing something good makes you feel good, you’re not being altruistic in the first place. And you’re right, there is a clear distinction. But I think there’s a continuum, not just a clear dichotomy between decency and selfishness. You can pursue your own interests regardless of how they affect other people; or you can think of the effect first and then decide whether something’s worth doing. That effect may not be the only reason you’re doing it, but it’s enough to get you the right side of the fulcrum. And if enough people stand on the right side, even close to the fulcrum, they’ll outweigh the few psychos standing way out there at the other end.

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