As much as I hate to admit it, I am not a young man anymore. I’m 50 years old now, and judging by the fact that restaurants are starting to give me the senior discount without even asking if I qualify for it I have to conclude that I don’t look younger than my years. We all know that aging is a part of being human, but it still sort of catches you by surprise when you realize that it actually applies to you, too.
I’ve noticed that my perspective has changed quite a bit as I’ve moved through the eras of my life. I was a very different person when I was younger. I had a lot more optimism back then, especially about the human race as a whole. I distinctly remember the joy I felt when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and we defeated communism. Things seemed to be trending up and I felt good about where the world was heading.
Now, not so much. The world, as a whole, seems more out of control than ever, and I no longer believe there is a fix to be found in any political party or charismatic leader. I don’t think the problem is politics — it’s people in general.
Although I have seen individuals and small groups of committed people achieve great things, humanity as a whole seems like a mostly cruel and violent lot and we seem to be self-destructive by nature.
I’ve been thinking about the Biblical story of the Great Flood lately. I know that most scientists and historians discount the possibility of a flood covering the entire Earth’s surface about 4.000 years ago for a whole lot of reasons, but whether it actually happened as written or not it’s still a compelling idea. With things being as they are today I can sort of understand how God might look at humanity and decide things had gone so wrong it was time to hit the reset button.
But we all know that wouldn’t really solve things. Even if we started over with a small group of good folks, in time, mankind would end up right back where we are now. Greed, selfishness, and jealousy wouldn’t be erased from our DNA, and in time things, would spin out of control again.
If we wanted to have a peaceful planet it seems obvious we would have to somehow change human nature at a very basic level. But how? If you had the power to change one thing about humanity, what would you change?
I’ve heard that question posed as a thought experiment before, and most people answer that they would either eliminate one of our primary negative motivators like greed or jealousy or make a positive trait like compassion or empathy more widely shared than they are now.
Those aren’t bad answers, but I think I would zero in on our tendency to sort ourselves into tribes and see those outside our peer group as dangerous and untrustworthy. That take-care-of-your-own trait undoubtedly helped groups of people survive in the past, but at this point, the world has become a very small place and our destinies are intertwined so it probably needs to be tweaked.
If we stopped creating endless us-versus-them scenarios based on traits like religion, race, nationality and economic class, it would take the energy out of nearly all the conflicts that plague our world and make us much more charitable toward each other. If we are going to survive as a species we need to somehow realize that we are all one race that has to share one planet and we’ll sink or swim (so to speak) together.
I admit, that’s not an original idea, and a more eloquent illustration of it can be found in the Bible in Luke 10:25-37. To update the parable for contemporary circumstances, try substituting Muslim or conservative Christian or liberal snowflake or right-wing gun nut (or whatever group you fear/hate the most) anytime the word Samaritan appears in the text.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.