Steven Pinker’s breakthrough, at least from a commercial standpoint, was a book about human nature entitled The Better Angels of Our Nature.
In it, Pinker describes a world in which there has been a dramatic and meaningful decrease in violence (wars, uprisings, genocides, etc) despite sentiment to the contrary. He posits that exceptions to this trend get disproportionate coverage in the press and on social media, creating a false reality that the opposite (that the world is more violent) is true. Further, he points out that at the most personal level the entirely human traits of reason and empathy have made the world kinder and safer at both the 3- and 30,000-foot level.
For quite some time now, I have observed this in my daily travels, both at work as a physician and around the various towns of my “civilian” life. We cannot discount the effect of “othering,” the process by which the bitter and the bigoted seek to make their targets something less than fellow humans in order to justify their prejudice. But this, too, is likely far less prevalent in reality than it seems it is given the reporting we see (although “othering” and prejudice in all of their forms are loathsome and have no place in our societies). No, what I see as I move through a life that brings me into contact with people of all walks of life is a people who bear no ill toward their fellow travelers.
What will we see over the next weeks and months in the time of COVID-19? Well, we will surely see silly, even stupid stuff. There will be folks who will say stuff that will make you roll your eyeballs right out of their sockets (too many examples to pick one). But these will not be the majority of who and what we see now, regardless of what we see and read and hear from whatever sources we use to gather information about our worlds.
No, the majority of who and what we will see is people who do the right thing. People who choose to be kind and understanding, who offer gestures of both in ways big and small that may be visible but will as often go unobserved. For sure there will be more of these acts of kindness now in a time when they are needed; our better angels will respond now because now is when we need them. We will find that things like watching a child or dropping off some groceries have been going on under the radar for, like, ever; the better angel within all of us will simply be more aware of the chance to help, to provide.
9/11 showed Americans that we can rally around a common cause and each other. Now, when it’s hard, when sacrifice will be asked of all, now is the time to seek the better angel within each of us. I’m getting to be an old guy now, and maybe I suffer from a kind of sentimentality brought on by my stage of life, but the more I look the more Angels I see around me. The more closely I look, the more of what I see is kindness. Understanding. Caring. Now is the time to seek the better angel within.
I see you. I know you. I see the angel within you. I know that our better angels will prevail.
Excerpted from: Thoughts from a Restless Mind Blog by Darrell White, MD.