When The Flags Are Fixed at Half Mast
When I was in high school, I wrote a paper on the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. I listened to the song over and over, letting it get deep into my soul and feeling the truth of it, but then I turned around and critiqued the lyrical content because it did not fit my framework for how the world works. You see, I grew up thinking that the world was getting worse and worse until someday, it would finally burn. But, amazingly, I loved that song; it was a bright hope in a world that was crumbling in post 9/11 military conflict, reeling from school shootings, and recovering from genocides.
Fast forward thirteen years. This summer has been one of the most violent summers I can recall. I do not know if its just that the world is reporting it better, or things are being live-fed on Facebook for the masses to consume more and more, but Orlando, Minneapolis, Baton Rogue, and Dallas (not to mention all the other countries in the world who have had even more violent years) have left our flags continually flying at half mast and our hearts heavy with grief.
But, there is the good news.
Here is a news report rather extravagant and maybe even a little offensive, in light of recent events:
The world is actually getting better.
You don’t believe me? Read on.
The World Bank reports that extreme poverty is down to about 10% of the world’s population, versus 37% in 1990. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the undernourishment rate went from roughly 19% to roughly 11% in that same time frame. Life expectancies continue to increase, according to the National Institute of Aging. Per Our World In Data, child mortality has decreased from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015. The number of nuclear weapons in inventory in the US and China has gone down drastically since the Cold War. Gender equality is up. There are now more rights and privileges available for people who have been historically marginalized. We are using more renewable energy than ever. The list of good things goes on and on. In fact, most scientist and data-gatherers agree: the world is much better, safer, and more equal place than it was twenty, forty, or even sixty years ago.
But we do not hear about those things, do we? We hear murder, rage, inequality, terror, and war. These reports are valuable; they remind us there is still a lot of work to do.
But, while you do the good work on continuously making the world a better place, remember that we are progressing, not regressing. The world is not sputtering along with blind hope, but really headed for disaster and a sure end. The world is evolving, learning, growing, and improving. We are not there yet, but there is actually some real hope.
What if we really believed this? What if Theodore Parker was actually right and “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”? How would our interactions with the world change? How might we change?
Maybe, as we work for more equality, more justice, more love, and more non-violence, we could imagine a world where “all the people were liv[ing] life in peace”?
It is worth a try.