Looking On the Bright Side (Newsletter 070)
Greetings fellow travelers!
I appreciate that some people are willing to point out what's not working perfectly in society. That they do so despite their words making them targets on all sides. Many people want their pleasant fantasies to continue undisrupted and so are annoyed at truthtellers. And those responsible for worsening conditions are hardly happy to have their malfeasance brought to light.
Among people admirably performing this service are the following: Bari Weiss with the Common Sense newsletter, Matt Taibbi at TK News, Scott Adams via Dilbert and Scott Adams Says, John Hawkins at Culturcidal, Michael Shellenberger, and Glenn Greenwald. As far as I can tell, each of them is looking to accurately perceive the world and, importantly, truthfully report on what they are seeing.
Earlier this week, I wrote about telling the truth while teaching, and what's happening at our universities. See The Downside to Academic Life in the United States. If there was ever a place where free and open inquiry should flourish, it is there. But sadly, free speech is under serious assault by people who should know better.
The toll on the accurate perceivers goes beyond society's ostracism. A regular commitment to pointing out faults risks warping the way one sees the world.
What happens when you focus all your attention on the negative? You will notice many things that are genuinely bad. You will train yourself to see the dark clouds on every horizon. And you will train your mind in so doing. What you might have once looked upon with patience or understanding, you now see with dismay.
This means in performing your service you may become a negative person. Pessimism is an occupational hazard, and cynicism and depression follow closely on its heels.
Let's Add Some Optimism to Our Diets
If we are to avoid a similar fate ourselves, we must periodically change where we look. If we seek the positive in situations, which is also there nestled among the clouds, we can temper the trend towards negativity. I say the more you are willing to look honestly at the ugliness in modern life, the more vital it is you add optimism to your mix.
In the Paradise Found series, we've been describing how America looks to us after 25 years away. You may have noticed that much of the news is bad. A lot has changed and certainly some has changed for the worse. I do not want to become pessimistic, cynical, or depressed or to make my dear readers feel so themselves.
Thus it is today we will explore aspects of American life that are undeniably good.
- Convenience Abounds. We outfitted an entire household in a few months, largely via conveniently shopping online sites. We still go to physical stores, partly for a change and partly from long habit. But if we want to be sure to find exactly what we're looking for, the frustration of fruitless searching has been vanquished. And it's not just shopping.
Travel planning and everything about travel itself, dining out, entertainment. Even chores like interacting with authorities and paying bills is quicker and more convenient. Pretty much everything is supported by apps and on-line information. It would be hard to overstate how much more convenient modern life has become in what was an already convenient society. (Although I wouldn't want to navigate without a smart phone....)
- Freedom is Thriving. By freedom, I mean the most fundamental kind: people here have immense flexibility to do what they want when they want. Stay put or travel. Eat the food you wish. Consume the entertainment that suits you. Spend time with friends. Work, or not.
Now I know you may be thinking, "I don't have flexibility at all. I have to work to make money to pay the rent." But we have more flexibility in how to organize our lives and what to do with our time than humans at any time in modern history.
- People are Wonderful. Perhaps the best thing about America is the people that populate it. Open, curious, friendly. I can't tell you how many positive interactions we've had, and how genuinely wonderful people are. In the aggregate and in groups, people behave terribly. One-on-one, that disappears. I don't know why kind behavior does not seem to scale well, but since most of our interactions are with individuals, not groups, it feels great being out among people in America.
- The American Dream Still Works. Nowhere else in the world is opportunity so abundant. Does your hard work guarantee your success? Not at all. But is there a formula you can follow to reliably increase your chances? You bet. Get the best education you can and work hard at it. Take chances and don't worry if you fail a few times on your way to finding a productive niche. Don't get caught up in the consumerism that is behind the convenience, but rather save and invest. Many, many people start from little means and make themselves successful in America.
- Goods and Services are Abundant. One needs to spend time elsewhere than American to appreciate how abundantly we are showered with goods and services. The whole world's output is available to us, often at little more effort than a mouse click. When we do venture out into physical stores, shelves groan with the weight of consumer goods. And there is virtually no service we can't find a willing provider to deliver. The flipside is rampant consumerism, but for the moment we should be pleasantly agog at the full productive capacity of humankind being at our doorsteps.
- Mindfulness is No Longer Fringe. I have been pleasantly surprised by how mainstream mindfulness has become, perhaps in response to consumerism's undercurrents. At home, at school, at work. It seems everyone has gotten on board with the idea of paying attention to the moment. Whether meditation, or yoga, or plain old "me" time, self-care is something many people have learned to care for.
- Creativity has Exploded. You can debate about whether technology has brought only benefits, but it's hard to dispute that America is prolifically innovative. Brilliant minds from the world over come to America: to study, to innovate, and to bring those innovations to the public. Many innovations flame out and fade into obscurity, but the survivors are impressive indeed.
Moreover, because technology has become so widespread, almost anyone can become a creator in their own right. Millions of blogs and writers, billions of tweets, videos, and similar content. Humans' creative impulses have been given free reign and the outpouring is staggering. Never before have so many been so able to express themselves to all of humanity.
I have to say, writing this list has done me well. I hope reading it has brightened your day, too. Anything I missed that you think I should add to the list?
PS – In this week's Career Path article, I discuss the trick in Identifying Problems Worth Working On. As regular Klugne readers well know, it's easy to find problems. The best problems to work on, however, are not always the ones you expect.
One more thing: whom else do you trust to deliver accurate information about the world? I'd love to add to my list of worthy thinkers. Hit reply to tell me who else you read or listen to or write a comment directly on Klugne. If you received this mail from a friend and would like to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, click here.