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Most of us believe that we humans are generally better than our daily blast of bad news would lead us to think about ourselves. Newscasts often thrive on sensationalism, anything to get your attention or prompt you to click an article on your computer. But most of us live a hum-drum life getting through each day being kind to people and hoping others will be kind to us.

For those of us who do the best we can in light of our circumstances, psychologist Abraham Maslow who sought to find people’s positive personality traits has comforting news: “The fact is that people are good. Give people affection and security, and they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and behavior.” In light of the current state of world politics, this might sound a bit optimistic, but Maslow is right in that the vast majority of Earth’s eight billion citizens are decent people who wish to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors next door and around the world. Most of us want to be productive citizens, earn a satisfactory wage for our work, and live comfortably. We are kind to others and hope for kindness in return.

It is unfortunately, however, that for thousands of years many of the peace-loving people around the world have often been the victims of a few self-centered malefactors who wanted power and did not let innocent people stand in their way. Those trouble makers – bullies who want their way or want everybody to see how tough they are – just cannot seem to leave alone those who merely want to be free to live their lives without the stress of fear from their neighbors or the rules of an oppressive government. It has always been humanity’s lot that a small number of thoughtless people caused problems for many innocent victims.

What is it about some people that makes them want to impose their will or ideology on people who do not want it, or to steal other people’s property when they do not need it? Avarice has always been a strong motivator in our history. For thousands of years, avarice armed with aggression has caused most of our human relations problems. Must we continue to be locked in this destructive pattern of behavior?

There are a number of national leaders in our past, and unfortunately, today as well, who manufacture hate by telling their people that those who profess different ideologies, different religions, or who live under different political systems are enemies and are not to be trusted. Unscrupulous rulers have a habit of blaming all of their nation’s woes on neighboring nations. They make up threats and expect the populous to believe them. As author of the book Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, put it: “Dictators can always consolidate their tyranny by an appeal to patriotism.”

One would think that after thousands of years of watching tyrants use the patriotism ploy as a power tool, we humans could see this coming and take steps to prevent it from happening. But even today tyrants continue to get their way. Many people do not learn from history and are gullible enough to keep repeating it over and over.

The corrupt ruler and his sycophants convince the nation’s citizens that they need to arm themselves and be prepared to fight and die for their country and their leader. There might not be any truth in the accusation, but what is critical is the perception of threat promulgated by those who stand to gain economically and politically by the conflict.

Often in these situations the opportunity for open minded people to have constructive dialogue about what they have been told is stifled. Citizens who seek the truth about what they are being told are irritants to the ruler’s ambitions. They are discredited or sometimes imprisoned.

Astronomer and humanitarian Fritz Zwicky who was born in Bulgaria, educated in Switzerland, and worked in the United States, strongly felt that a good many of humanity’s problems stem from the influence of attaching oneself to one national organization or one set of dogmatic rules and being hostile toward others. As he put it: “Any hope to resolve the predicament of the world rests squarely on those individuals who are unattached and free in every respect, materially and spiritually. Only these free agents are capable of seeing things as they are.”

Although we are taught to pledge our loyalty to the nation where we were born or move to, Zwicky and many others today advocate a global approach to citizenship where men and women consider themselves citizens of the world rather than limit their outlook to just one nation or cultural entity. It certainly limits our outlook when we get bogged down by any one ideology or set of dogmas. Our interconnected world is just too small for us to hold on to outdated nationalistic shortsightedness.

In the vast scheme of things, we are on a very small planet and if we do not take care of it and each other, we perish. Carl Sagan’s famous ‘pale blue dot’ quote made after he saw a picture taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe 6 billion kilometers from Earth sums up our inescapable situation:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Our little blue dot is too densely populated, too heavily armed, and too ecologically fragile for us to continue acting as if conflicts from gang fights to wars can go on forever. We are getting to a time of reckoning when we will be forced to decide what path we will take in our future. Will we continue fighting and dying and destroying each other’s property? Or can we finally realize that we have the intellectual power within our minds to understand that for the safety of ourselves and our planet, we must put down our guns and live in peace and harmony?

It has taken many nations and cultures to build the global civilization we have today. But our constant problem, and the deterrent to world peace and cooperation, is that we have been plagued for thousands of years by national and cultural entities coming up with excuses for waging war on other national or cultural entities. It is time we allowed ourselves to come up with a completely different mindset.

All of our philosophies, all of our gods, all of our speeches, all of our volumes of writing have not brought us out of this psychological quagmire we are stuck in. All we have been able to do so far is make impassioned speeches following a destructive war and offer our “thoughts and prayers” to the survivors. Then the armies go off to fight again, and the criminals load their guns for their next assault.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for continuing in this absurd behavior. As wise and intelligent as we tell ourselves we are, wars and crime point out that much of our talk of wisdom and intelligence is just so much hot air.

As far as technology, science, medicine, and even in mapping the electrical and chemical workings of the brain, we have shown a great deal of intelligence and creativity. It is in understanding our mind that we have more work to do. For example, we have some understanding of how a particular part of the brain keeps the heart muscles pumping, but we do not understand why our heart ‘breaks’ when we lose a loved one. And even though the two functions seem to be separate, we know that the heart beats faster when we get excited about something. Emotions and the brain are closely tied together in ways that we are still trying to understand.

Acts of kindness also affect the brain. They can bring on a sense of calmness and optimism. You feel good when someone does something nice even if it is just holding the door for you when you have your hands full or when two people tell each other to have a nice day and mean it. Little gestures matter.

Now just think how much better all of us would feel if all of us put down our weapons and showed kindness instead of animosity. Our brains would be calm instead in the current state of fear and anxiety we are in. Our hearts would beat slower and our blood pressure would drop. We would all live longer and be healthier, especially if we did not have to worry about being shot or blown up. It is obvious that kindness is good for human health, both physically and mentally.

Even though we understand that kindness is good for both the giver and the receiver, many of us seem to get pleasure from being obnoxious and stirring up trouble, whether it is in your neighborhood or one political leader threatening another. Creating stress and anxiety is bad for the instigator and those who have to put up with it.

Many trouble makers do not see other people as important or as intelligent as they see themselves. But consider another Zwicky quote that says: “He is a friend of man whose actions further the realization of the genius of man.” If we could calm down our egocentric approach to interacting with others, and learn to appreciate others as fellow intelligent human beings, we would all be happier.

Although it is certainly normal for us to like some people and not like others, at least try to see a sliver of good in everyone you meet, even if you think they are set against anything you have to say. How you respond to others starts with your attitude about people in general. If it is your nature to distrust everyone, then you will set yourself up to be not trusted. People will not respond positively to you because you first do not respond positively to them.

You need to convince people that you can be trusted. Tell the truth as you see it, and try not to embellish it with your biases. Let the facts speak for themselves. Neither fall for nor create propaganda that tries to promote a divisive political, religious, or social agenda. We see a lot of that today from deceitful national leaders, vote- hungry politicians, to conspiracy theorists who thrive on making assertions that are not backed up by analysis and solid evidence.

We do not want to fear each other. In most people, there is a strong tendency to be helpful to someone in need. Just look at all the thousands of organizations around the world that do what they can keep people healthy and happy. Think of the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross, and many others. We want to trust others and have others trust us. It is the way we want to live.

But today’s world situation calls for caution. Many criminals make their living telling lies. There are laws against unethical business practices, but having high ethical standards, unfortunately, is not a universal human trait. Some of us treat others honestly and fairly. For many of us, however, honesty just gets in the way of exploiting others.

Unfortunately, many of us are often faced with situations that create stress and anxiety. They call for courage and a deep understanding of your own personal philosophy, your biases, and how you feel about yourself and your future. Do your best to be a person of courage. Do not give in to glib rhetoric or unfounded promises whether from dogmatic rulers, politicians wanting your vote, charlatan sales people, or anyone else trying to persuade you to act and think a certain way.

It is easy to get caught in an unscrupulous scheme or scam, or get pulled into the middle of two opposing attitudes, that perhaps neither of which you have a strong attachment to. It is tough when your friends or colleagues ask you to participate in an activity that you do not feel comfortable about. The strength of your independence is tested. Do you go along with the crowd, or do you take a deep breath and allow your integrity and intestinal fortitude guide your response? The crowd is easy. Sticking to who you are and what you consider honest and moral can be hard.

For centuries, scientists have been teaching us to think critically, to weigh the evidence for and against a proposition. The lesson is to think beyond what you are being told or what someone wants you to believe. If someone is telling you to believe their version of the truth, believe only what you can determine is based on good evidence.

What is truth? We have been asking ourselves that question for thousands of years. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of truth, absolute and relative, and, of course, lots of ‘gray area’ in between. It is absolutely true that there is a star 93 million miles from Earth that we call the sun. However, the idea that someone is a liberal, moderate, or conservative is relative to their biases, their optimism or pessimism concerning human relations, their sense of history, their level of compassion and caring for others, and a plethora of other influences that swirl around in their mind and come out as a political or social point of view. Political and social truths, therefore, are relative and subject to change as circumstances change.

The problem is that we sometimes come to believe that our relative truths are absolutely true and allow our personal relative truths to polarize us into factions that disagree on how the world should be run. We forget or put aside the absolute truth that all eight billion of us are emotional humans on one planet and that we must do our best live in harmony.

We take our relative truths too seriously, especially when we try to impose our will on other people because we think that our truth is more truthful than the other person’s truth. Some of us, such as selfish politicians and war mongers, want us to follow them without question, but if we are to continue to survive and prosper in the future, we need to concentrate more on unifying humanity rather than continuing to split it into antagonistic factions.

In just about every facet of human life we are separated into opposing parties: communists verses capitalists; democracy verses autocracy, liberal versus conservative, those who advocate peace and safety versus those who readily use weapons or threaten to use weapons. We cannot seem to agree on much of anything these days. Is this what five million years of hominin evolution has led to?

In many ways we are still animals fighting in the jungle, “red in tooth and claw” to quote Alfred Lord Tennyson. If we have not become rational human beings in this long evolution, how long will it take? Can we count on natural selection to eliminate those who are holding back our evolutionary progress toward a unified, harmonious, and cooperative world? How much time do we have left before there are so many deadly weapons on Earth that one little spark ends human civilization that we have worked hard to build.

Or is it time we took control of our own destiny? What a wonderful opportunity we humans have! We ourselves, without needing to pray to a plethora of gods, or be concerned about the alignment of the stars, can determine who we want to be and what kind of world we want to live in. We are our own problem solvers.

Forget about the labels we put on our ourselves and our various dogmas. Beyond calling ourselves capitalists or communists, killers or caregivers, religious or humanist, first and most importantly, we are people, the flesh and blood citizens of this planet that spawned us.

Just as each human being controls her or his own life, we can as one humanity control how we are going to live in harmony with each other. We do not need to consider ourselves different from each other just because we, at the moment, have different political points of view, different opinions of how we must interact with each other, different religions, or no religion. At our human core, we are exactly the same.

We eat, sleep, interact socially and economically, enjoy nature and the company of each other. We enjoy our art, our architecture, our technology, our adventures into space, and most of all we love learning about ourselves…how we came about, how our brains control our body, and how our minds are able to comprehend the intricacies of the vast universe.

Perhaps it is understanding our place in the universe that is the most astounding thing about us. A million Earths could fit into our sun. The sun is one of over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And there are billions of galaxies in the universe. We understand this. We understand that in the universe we are ridiculously insignificant. That fact alone should make even the most pompous egotist to realize how fragile and wonderful human life is.

Yet, some of us carry on as if we are the most important creatures in the entire universe. Many of us are self-centered enough to believe we are more important than other people and have an innate right to tell others how to live. The worst humans have learned that a quick way to get what they want is to disregard the happiness of others and take what they want. Kindness, compassion, and caring are words not in their vocabulary.

If everyone acted this way, however, our species would have died off due to lack of cooperation where each person had to work with others to build a strong community. Those who have no compassion for others are not the people who built our global civilization. Human civilization happened in spite of them.

Civilization was built on cooperation, on people being kind to each other, and forming symbiotic relationships where each person contributed his or her skills that benefitted the entire society. Thieves, the greedy, and the aggressive have always been problem people who got in the way of the honest and the cooperative and had to be worked around.

In spite of the negative news we get hourly that would lead one to think that there is no sanity left in the world, there are still enough kind and cooperative people, the unsung heroes we seldom hear about, who are keeping our human civilization going and growing. On the other hand, it is those who do harm to their neighbors or threaten to do harm who are throwbacks to human evolution. They have no place in the future of our species.

It is up to the rest of us, the kind and cooperative, to see that the world progresses as it should. We must be patient. The trouble makers are numerous and have been with us throughout our history. Their minds are fixated on causing trouble for many people in order to further their political agenda, and, unfortunately, they show no signs of slowing down in the near future.  

So, the kind and cooperative must keep working. And it is sad that they must maintain a defense system that keeps the aggressors from pushing too far. But that is the current state of affairs that we have created after millions of years of coping with hostile environments and hostile humans. This, however, is not the world we need to pass on to our children and descendants.

Our children, grandchildren and beyond would like to build on the best that we have come up with such as our technology, our medical research, our exploration of space, and the best of our social programs. They do not want our wars, our pollution, our crime, our dogmatic religions, or our polarizing politics. They want a world free of fear and free of deadly weapons.

Is it possible we could attempt to try to give them this kind of world? This is certainly not the world of our parents or grandparents. They tried to establish world peace with such institutions as the United Nations. It has done a lot of good in the world, but wars and weapons are still with us in abundance.

The United Nations was founded on good intentions. Its Declaration of Human Rights demonstrates profoundly that we humans think about and ardently desire a world where we are all equal under the law and where no tyrant or autocrat should have the right to subdue or coerce others.

Yet, for all the propitious rhetoric which admonishes us to be kinder to each other, the UN has not been able to subdue the lust for power that many of us have to one degree or another. We humans are a stubborn bunch and often stick to our biases, our notions, our prejudices, and believe false information even in the light of evidence and facts to the contrary. For some of us, once we have decided on a truth, no other truths matter, even if they are true. We’d rather be wrong than admit that we are wrong.

But, in spite of our hardheadedness and hardheartedness, there is a modicum of hope. As we move through the Anthropocene Era, our human era, we are becoming more aware of our humanity. This era is our human time in the evolution of life. We are becoming aware that we no longer need to be bound to the animal behaviors that got us to this point in our evolution.

Although we love and respect animals, we have moved beyond their habits and behaviors. We no longer need to hunt and fight for our food. We do not live in trees or dens in the ground. Except for putting up with criminals and tyrannical bullies, we have evolved beyond the stress and anxiety of living in the wild surrounded by predators.

 We have language, we have sophisticated communications systems, we understand how the universe works, and are beginning to understand the rudiments of how our minds work. And it is especially important that we can now understand how to be kind to each other.

We can develop our kindness just as we have developed our dislike for each other. The problem is that for many of us being dismissive and intolerant of others is so much easier than being nice. Being cruel is a fool’s way of living in the world. It does not require thinking beyond one’s ego or being concerned about what others think and feel.

Are we humans so mentally lazy that we cannot have empathy for each other? It seems that the numerous conflicts of our past as well as the ones we are suffering through now show that our lazy thinking brings on turmoil and destruction. Laziness did not build our civilization and it will not build our future.

Indian philosopher, Sri Aurobindo tells us: “Do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future.” Look forward to a bright day in your thinking, not to the darkness of the mistakes of the past.  Simple kindness can pull us out of the social malaise we are currently groveling in. In spite of our doubts and feelings of inadequacy, we have to shake hatred, greed, and intolerance from the way we interpret the world.

But let’s dwell on the good things we have done in our past. We have built great hospitals, great universities, sent satellites into deep space, and set up a thriving global trade network. Our credentials for doing good are strong.

It is that we still have a few bad habits, deadly habits, truculent habits, hiding in the corners of our minds that spread like a cancer into our thought and decision-making processes. These habits remind us that we are still evolving from our animal ancestors and still retain many of the survival instincts that helped them cope with the perils of natural selection. Living in the wild required them to develop defensiveness and aggression, and they passed these traits on to us.

But gradually we are developing our own traits that are supplanting the old animal traits. As our minds develop more humanistic traits, we are pushing the aggressive thought patterns out. We know we no longer need them for our survival. In fact, we now see these aggressive traits as a threat to our survival as humans.

Finally, after all of these many centuries of war and peace, we have the intelligence and have accumulated enough knowledge of ourselves and our world to take over our own evolution. The new version of natural selection is what we select to do with ourselves. When enough of us select to be kind to each other, and allow our minds to evolve in that direction, we as a species will become kinder.

To decide to stop our deadly and destructive bickering is the greatest decision we as a species could make. It would ensure the survival of ourselves and our descendants and rid us of the fear that war-mongering tyrants could invade our country and destroy our civilization.

A poignant quote by Aldous Huxley on rethinking our relationships with each other and making ourselves happier says: “People often ask me what is the most effective technique for transforming their life. It is a little embarrassing that after years and years of research and experimentation, I have to say that the best answer is just be a little kinder.”

Huxley’s answer sounds somewhat simplistic in our complex and confusing world. But when one thinks deeply about it, it is the fundamental answer for most of our problems with crime and conflict. It stands to reason that two people who are kind to each other are more than likely not to rob each other or get into a fight. Now multiply that attitude by eight billion and everybody on Earth is kind, happy, and getting along well with everyone else. Ted McCormack

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