Is It A Cruel World?

News today can be very depressing. Every day, we see stories of mass shootings, environmental devastation, government corruption, war and bloodshed, and global pandemics.

Is this the natural state of human affairs?

On the one hand, things seem to be constantly improving. Our knowledge is cumulative, and today we know more about how the universe works than ever before. And with that knowledge, we are able to manipulate the world around us with ever-increasing ability and refinement.

On the other, we keep repeating mistakes of the past. We continue to be ruled by our coarser natures of suspicion, intolerance, and greed. Atrocities happen at home and abroad. History is filled with shameful events in all times and locations, and today is no exception.

The hope would be that our society is moving toward a better world. One where our lives are longer, happier, healthier, and more productive.

However, that may be only a dream and not reality. The more complicated our lives become, the more stress we feel. We don’t sleep enough. We tend to eat unhealthy food and to be overweight. We work long hours. We don’t get enough exercise. We sit in traffic. We use drugs to start our day, and again to end it. We pollute our air and our water. We make products that have a one time, limited use but that remain in our environment for centuries.

Is the chaos of our current society a stepping stone to a brighter future? Or is it our fate to live a life of struggle and uncertainty? Will our descendants inherit a world that is better than our current one, or one that is just as bad or maybe worse? And do we have the power to choose one option or the other?

Is it a cruel world?

Related questions: Why do we put up with unhappiness? How have we changed? What are you optimistic about? Are we too busy?

How Do You Think Others See You?

When I turned 30, I asked my friends to provide a one word description of my best feature or my most prominent characteristic. I was curious about what they appreciated about my personality and the way I acted. While I considered myself fairly self-aware, I wanted to know if my friends saw me the same way I saw myself.

Before I started to get responses, I expected that the answers would fall into two or three broad categories. In my own mind, I was smart, I was funny, and I was friendly.

Once the answers started to roll in, however, I was surprised. In all, I asked maybe 30 people, and I got 30 different answers. While I didn’t expect that every response would be different, the thing that really astonished me was the wide variety of answers. Loyalty, eyes, conversation, creativity, honesty, goofiness. They did not easily fit into the categories I envisioned.

Different people value different things. It took me 30 years to learn this lesson, but it was a major step in expanding my empathy skills. Now I regularly try to view how other people might see the world, including how I fit into it.

I also learned something else from this exercise: every relationship I have is unique. While I might be a constant to my relationships, each person I interact with brings their own personality, their own experiences, their own vantage point to our mutual association.

Which brings me to this week’s question: How do you think others see you? How would you like them to see you? What can you do to change how others see you? Are you externally self-aware?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What do we have in common? What makes you you? How do you judge yourself?