Is This Progress?

“It’s a funny thing that medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

We like to think that as a species humans are forever moving forward onto bigger and better and faster and smarter things. We stand on the shoulders of giants and create iphones and clone animals and invent cars that park themselves. We are forever acquiring new information, ideas and solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had. We are progressing. Of course we are. Right?

Well, if you ask Faye, someone well into her nineties who has lived through some of the toughest times in human history, it all depends on your definition of progress. I first met Faye about a month ago for my 100th Kindness mission to visit someone in hospital who doesn’t get many visitors. It was an incredibly moving experience meeting her and hearing her stories. She was overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of someone taking the time to visit her and bring her flowers. And over the weekend I was able to track her down again after much confusion, calling around and getting lost (the hospital told me she was at the retirement home who told me she was at the hospital …) It was wonderful to see her again, to share a cup of tea and her
favourite pecan pie and talk about everything and anything. She was so grateful that I had come to visit again and I said I would love to visit her regularly if she would like me to. Faye said that since she had never had a granddaughter and I was missing my grandmother, it surely wasn’t a coincidence that we had met each other.

She is a beautiful, warm, positive person, endlessly upbeat and uncomplaining despite the many hardships she has faced and many ailments that make life difficult. And yet, on the topic of the world today (and tomorrow) she could find little to be hopeful about. She shook her head as she talked about the madness she saw on the evening news. She couldn’t help but think that humanity itself was going backwards at a rapid rate, because in general people don’t look after one another anymore and everybody seems so angry and so violent. She pointed out the irony that “medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

I wanted to dispute her, of course. I wanted to tell her that it’s not just the minority that are progressing, thatmost people are becoming better and more enlightened and more compassionate. But as I was trying to pull together some kind of argument for this it struck me like an avalanche: I don’t have one. What words could possibly lessen the evils of riots and dictatorships and war that are going on right now? There is nothing anyone can say or do to take away the horror and inhumanity of what goes on in our world every single minute of every single day.

I could not give her any real evidence of the goodness in the world, all I could tell her was what I believe. I believe there is just as much good in the world as bad, we just don’t hear about it because it is not
considered newsworthy. I believe that in the same heartbeat as all the death and destruction and fear and hatred there is also equal amounts of selflessness and compassion and kindness and love. But I don’t know this, I have no real evidence that is true; I only hope with my whole heart that it is. But as much as my heart had been lifted by seeing her, as I left Faye shuffling slowly back to her hospital bed to eat her tasteless hospital dinner with scenes of chaos on the muted television that could have been any number of countries I felt my heart sink. There was the avalanche of heavy realisation again – what possible goodness could even come close to counter balancing all the bad in the world?

And then there was this: today as I pulled my car into the driveway at work, a man walking by stopped and moved the garbage bins out of my way, giving a nod and a wave before continuing down the street. Later, it began to rain as I walked to the shops and I saw a lady stranded without an umbrella. I offered to share mine, to which she gratefully accepted and said she had done the same thing for someone else the day before. Then while I walked her home another man ran past us at top speed – I assumed he was running for the bus which was just about to pull away – only to race over to help a mother who was struggling to lift a pram up some stairs. He then walked over to the bus stop and stood to wait for the next one with a small smile on his face. These moments were not anywhere near as big as the catastrophes that were occuring at the exact same time in some other parts of the world. Yet they contained tiny little seeds of hope that restore some balance between those heartbreaking news stories and the innate goodness of people. I will certainly be sharing these small kindnesses with Faye next time I see her.

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eric Winger
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 09:25:34

    There’s nothing small about sharing an umbrella with someone.

    Please pass along to Faye that some of us are out here trying. 🙂


    • happydancecat
      Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:47:02

      Don’t worry I’ve told her Eric! She was amazed by the year of kindness idea and even more amazed that it wasnt just one crazy girl- there are people all over the world doing similar things. But it takes time to change your negative perspective of the world and the news certainly doesn’t do much for our case!


  2. Paprika Furstenburg
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 13:18:46

    I was the recipient of an act of kindness yesterday at the supermarket. I was loading my car when an older man came up behind me. Quickly, I realized that by having my car door open to load my bags, I was blocking his car door. I apologized and began to move my cart out of the way. He smiled at me and told me not to rush then proceeded to lift the heavy bags from my cart and hand them to me one by one so I could put them in my car. When I loaded the last bag I turned to get the cart to return it to its stall and saw that he was already on his way to returning it. I thanked him profusely. I was stunned by his kindness and assistance and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the afternoon.

    There is a lot of awful out there in the world, but I agree with you that there is also kindness and caring. It’s just happening on a smaller, less newsworthy scale.


  3. pattyabr
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 13:56:48

    One act of kindness leaves a ripple effect on humanity. Keep up the good work.

    She is somewhat right about people. People are human and it easy to fall back on negativity when the world shoots you lemons.


  4. veggieatlas
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 15:38:04

    I think it is our overexposure to news – and news bias – that leads us to think that the world is getting worse not better. There are plenty of wonderful acts and people out in the world – you’ve shown us many times Cat – but it’s just not newsworthy. What does that say about our society? Just that it is the same as always but now we have cameras everywhere to show us what’s bad every day (imagine if the Romans had cameras!) and rarely are newspapers /tv stations interested in showing anything positive. But reading people’s positive stories and making kindness a priority in our lives as individuals is a way of seeing goodness everywhere – only it may not impact people like hearing of 100 people going missing in Syria ( but imagine how many wonderful, courageous acts of kindness have gone on there over the past few months that we don’t see).

    I always revel in the successes of GetUp and Avaaz and try to check out this type of news Thanks again for a thought provoking post!


    • happydancecat
      Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:54:10

      I loved your point about Romans not having cameras, veggie. I’d never thought of it like that before! I definitely don’t think we are any worse now than in the past, the real question is if we are any better, if we have progressed and moved forward socially and morally. I personally think there has always been and will always be an equal amount of good and bad in the world, but like you said we need to give the good news just as much focus and attention as the bad, if not more!


  5. enermazing
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 01:05:56

    I don’t think that people are that different now from how they were 50, 100, or 5000 years ago. Maybe the difference is that through the media and especially the internet we hear more about others, and the ripples they create can be enormous.


    • happydancecat
      Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:00:10

      No, I don’t think we are that different either, enermazing. I think Faye was pointing out that it would be nice to think we were different in a good way. That we were moving towards being more enlightened and compassionate as a species. There are certainly many, many individual stories of positivity, and like you said if we consider them to be contagious ripples then those individual stories are potentially whole oceans of positivity!


  6. smceuen
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 04:24:28

    You continue to inspire me with your updates and honesty.

    Each one of us has a choice every day to make the most of our moments.

    By truly being present to each and every person we encounter, opportunities happen.

    Thank you for being a reminder of this.


    • happydancecat
      Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:03:00

      Thankyou, smceuen. You are so right – half the battle is just opening yourself up to the possibilities of every moment. It’s not an easy thing to do, but its usually well worth it.


  7. Lexy Raine
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 06:58:46

    Beautiful post Cat, just beautiful.


  8. 12 Novels in 12 Months
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 08:18:24

    This post voices my internal struggle beautifully.I’m an upbeat, optimistic person usually but there are times when I get weighed down by what I see. I don’t have children and always assumed I would but all of the violence and turmoil seen around the world and the apparent disintegration of human compassion made me seriously doubt if I wanted to bring an innocent being into this.

    But then there are the little things. It warms my heart to see that there are people out there who not only are caring, compassionate beings but they truly mean what they do. Their good intentions shine through as a beacon of hope for me that all is not lost.

    Thank you for being one of those beacons.


    • happydancecat
      Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:13:24

      I think that’s an internal struggle so many people face. But I think children are one of the most beautiful pieces of evidence that kindness and compassion is something that comes naturally. I work with vulnerable children and their strength and joy reminds me every day of the goodness in the world and in all of us. I know many people who have raised such kind and compassionate children who will undoubtedly make an amazingly positive contribution to the world, and that cannot be a bad thing.


  9. Lesh Karan
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 13:04:37

    Cat, thank you for sharing this story. It’s a shame that on the surface people believe advances in science and technology, and how much one earns and owns is a sign of progress and wealth. When you dig deeper, all people really want is to be heard, loved, shown compassion and have wonderful relationships – these things don’t cost us anything, but give us everything. Yet, it’s a shame many don’t realise this sooner…if at all. Keep up the great work. Lesh x


    • happydancecat
      Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:16:49

      So, so true Lesh. The people that seem least compassionate and connected are the ones that most need to be heard and understood! It is quite amazing that anyone can go through life without ever really questioning themselves or their motivations, but many do.

      The best things in life are free, huh? 😉


  10. sliceofshanghai
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 18:56:00

    Very touching post. Thank you for sharing!


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