Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Miscellany: Goodness Rules

Monday is the day for miscellaneous topics

A recent Dear Abby column really resonated with me. Since I can’t find a permalink for the specific column, here’s the one letter I reacted to:
DEAR ABBY: I have been reading your column most of my adult life, but I don't ever remember seeing any letters from people who are just afraid of life.

The world today is such a scary place. I have a small child who will have to grow up in this world, and sometimes the thought terrifies me. I hear about school shootings, dangerous gangs, religious leaders who are sex offenders, and I recently watched a report of six teenage girls beating another and videotaping it to post online.

How can parents feel safe raising our kids in a world this crazy and scary? I am trying to look for the positive in life, but, honestly, it gets harder and harder. -- MISSING THE OLD DAYS IN ARIZONA CITY

DEAR MISSING THE OLD DAYS: I agree, bad things do sometimes happen to good people. However, you can't live your life as though the Hammer of Thor is about to strike you down, and if you maintain your fearful attitude, you could pass it along to your child.

While I can't guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to you or anyone else, please allow me to remind you that the news media earn their income from magnifying the tragic, the scary and anything that deviates from the norm -- whether it is a murder, a car wreck or a five-legged cow.

The time has come for you to turn off your television set, tune out talk radio, and take your child to a park, a playground, a zoo or any family outing. It's a sure way to detoxify yourself from the negativity that has poisoned your outlook. Do it for two weeks, and I can almost guarantee you'll feel better than you do today.

I think this is really great advice. So many people live in fear. We hear this fear often when people ask us about our travels. “I heard there are banditos in Mexico!” “Aren’t you afraid of the crazy people living out in the woods when you boondock?” “The Pacific Coast Highway is so narrow and twisty! Don't drive your RV there!” “I only feel safe in an RV park.”

Many of us are inundated with bad news, especially on television. As Abby says, bad news sells. Crime, violence, death and destruction make exciting footage. Thieves, liars, and cheats make us cluck our tongues and shake our heads and wait for the "details at 11PM." Talk radio seems to work people up into their worst selves, encouraging ranting and harsh judgments and even hate. The handful of loudmouth boors who call in are stroked and praised by the host, making them feel important. On the airwaves, it seems that everyone is angry.

Why does this junk sell? I think the reason is very simple: because it is different than the real world. We don’t need to watch or hear about kindness, civility, health, or prosperity, because we see that every day in our real lives. It is familiar and therefore boring! Wow, think about that: goodness is so common it is boring. And when things are boring and common, we don’t focus on them. We don’t pay attention.

Today at work, I’ll bet that your coworkers did their jobs, chatted about their weekends, and ate their lunches. Probably no one screamed at the boss, punched their fist through a wall or embezzled the 401K. No one slid up to you and offered you drugs or implied that your job was at risk if you didn’t date them. Papers were filed, customers were served, product was shipped. How dull. How normal. If a camera crew showed up to film that, you’d be baffled, or laugh out loud. Put my job on TV? You’ve got to be joking! I just sit here and answer the phone/drive the truck/supervise the playground!

Around the country, hundreds of millions of people have days just like yours. It is so rare for something really bad to happen, that when it does, you tell everyone. “Oh my goodness, Jack was fired and he was so upset that he cried! It was shocking! I’ve never seen that before, so sad! He didn’t deserve it!” The bad news becomes conversation, repeated much more often than something good like, “Jill’s article for the annual report was flawless! Not a single grammatical mistake! Her spelling has improved so much, don’t you think?” Boooooooring. We acknowledge the really BIG good news, like weddings and new babies and high school diplomas, but even those simmer down much more quickly than news of small badnesses like the time John broke his nose on a door jamb.

But the truth is that the world is overwhelmingly good and getting better. Life expectancy is up. Infant mortality is down. Cars are safer. Nationally, violent crime is down in the USA. (Don’t believe me? I used to publish a book of government statistics that included yearly crime data. Every year, the numbers per capita were lower. Buy Almanac of the 50 States for yourself.)

This is big picture stuff, though. What about locally, at the neighborhood level? Think about where you live. I assume that if you live there, you probably feel pretty safe. Your neighbors are probably pretty nice and give you a friendly wave. Kids play at the park and folks tend their yards. That’s normal. The norm. Common place. Frequent. Your neighborhood exists all over the country and all over the world. Other than the fact that you live there, it isn’t special in its comfortable safeness.

Are there “bad” neighborhoods? Of course. There are pockets of crime and areas where drugs and violence can be encountered. Even in your upscale middle class town. But those areas are such a small percentage of human habitation, and almost completely nonexistent out in the “boonies.” We hear disproportionally about these “bad” places because they are NOT normal. They are NOT boring. But I think it is fantastic news that they are not the norm! That means the overwhelming majority of places are safe, friendly and good.

Is it lame to read Dear Abby everyday? Yeah, probably. But sometimes her answers are just the sort of straight talk that people need to hear, and I think this is one such case. Stop listening to the doom and gloom, and go out and actually experience the goodness of life. You won't be sorry.


  1. I read Abby almost every day (*g*) and this letter also struck a chord. I'm someone who is most definitely *not* afraid of life but am surrounded by people who are. It's so sad, but also frustrating since I can't really share with the people in my life the wonderous things I've seen and done.

    I think a fear of life ties in to that other post you made recently about 'just doing it' (fantastic article, btw, I plan to hand it to my mother as a preface to announcing to her that I am moving into a bus and becoming a nomad).

    Abby is 100% correct in saying that people need to tune out the news. Yes, we should know about what's going on in the world, but we shouldn't for a second think that the world is more violent or dangerous today than it used to be. The only thing that's changed is that we now have ways to spread the news very quickly around the globe.

  2. "Fear of death will not prevent dying - but it may prevent living." - Anonymous

  3. Terrific post!! Being prone to a bit of perpetual anxiety, I know how limiting "fear" can be. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  4. Well said.
    Once in awhile "Abby" does give very sound guidance.
    There wasn't a particular moment in time, but at some point a while ago, I figured that I'd just as soon stay away from those for whom daily life is "doom and gloom". Don't like Soap Operas on tv, and sure as heck don't want one in real life.

    Btw, the only moment in my day when there's just a hint of disappointment is when I log on to "Our Odyssey" only to discover that there's not yet a new entry.



  5. I applaud you for this article. How true and sad at the same time. I embrace life as 1/2 full in all aspects. It is so nice to read that I am not the only one who thinks this way!! Let's go out and share this thought with the others's who missed out on The Power of Positive Thinking. Really nice. Thanks.

  6. Wonderful post, Louise.

    I've done a fair amount of traveling on my own, in places like India. Many people told me they would be afraid to do something like that, but it was a wonderful experience and it never felt scary to me. And over and over again, people went out of their way to be kind and helpful to me, a total stranger.

    Thank you for reminding me to look for and appreciate the everyday goodness that can so easily go by unnoticed.

  7. I don't read "Dear Abby", but her advice is right on the mark. If all one did was watch the 11 o'clock news each night life would look pretty scary. I love "uneventful", "routine", and that is what 99.999% of life is.

    If you're looking for an interesting talk show that doesn't involve yelling, screaming, name calling, etc. Listen to the Dennis Prager show. It is a nationally sydicated show, and is on in the western U.S. around 9am, depending on the time zone, and Noon in the eastern U.S. You can also stream it by going to Great discussions! His motto is "I prefer clarity to agreement". The debates are respectful.

  8. Love your post, thank you for saying it. We get a lot of comments from people too, about how scary it must be to boondock in a parking lot or in the woods.

    Ever since 9/11, we've become a panic stricken nation. Sad. TV has so much to do with it. I believe that the key to getting people to see the beautiful things in the universe is to throw that dumb boob tube in the trash (err, recycle bin).

    Our British friend Ted Simon ("Jupiter's Travels" book) told us once, "The world is not the scary place that you Americans think it is." How true!


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