Is the World Really That Bad?

My 13-year old son came back from school recently with yet another book to read for class. This one is called “Holes”, and it’s about a young boy who has to go to jail through no fault of his own. It upset me yet again, because the school insists on these really dark novels of kids in distress. The previous one, Spilt Water, was about a girl who was sold by her parents to work in a factory in China almost as slave labour. I’d also like to tell you that these stories had very unsatisfactory endings, rather than the optimistic stuff I was brought up on.

On the one hand, I’m pleased that my boy is exposed to the insight that there are people in the world much worse off than him, but I’m deeply troubled by the sense of pessimism and despair that our kids are fed in all the various media. That’s what sparked off this article, because I think we get so caught up in the bad news, we forget the other alternative.

If I were to ask you how you feel about being alive in today’s world, how would you respond? What would you say about your life, your health, your finances, your work, your emotional well-being and your spiritual life? Would you describe about how worried you are, how much stress you are under, how it has become such a struggle to just meet your monthly expenses, how hard you are working just to survive, how frustrated you are with the utter stupidity of our leadership and empty celebrities, and how anxious you are about the state of the world in general? One of our clients said that he felt completely overwhelmed in the world of business turmoil – and he is the wealthy CEO and major shareholder of a business worth $45m in annual turnover!

Of course you can’t blame people around the world for being negative. Politically and via legislation we are faced with inept, incompetent and often corrupt leadership that seems to have as its major goal the accumulation of wealth and power at the expense of citizens. Countless refugees desperately seek a better life in other countries, from which they are almost immediately rejected. The world’s economy seems to be in a dreadful state. Sociologically we have too many problems to list here: poverty and inequality, (6 children die of hunger or water problems every minute,) crime, disease, traffic jams, overpopulation, unemployment, abuse of vulnerable people and cruelty towards all species, substance abuse, an increase of psychological problems, and so on.

Technologically we have access to all sorts of devices and methods that have made life more pleasant and easier, but they also come with numerous problems: emails and cell phones create stress by demanding an immediate response, we are overwhelmed by too much information, and right now there’s yet another “ransomware” cyber-attack infecting millions of computers worldwide. Internationally, the globalisation of industry has led to gargantuan companies dominating our lives and charging ever-increasing prices as they gobble up smaller competitors and retrench staff on a massive scale.

We are slowly killing our earth and environment with pollution, even as weather patterns and the extinction of various species give us clues that something is terribly wrong. And while in many parts of the developed world there are ageing populations with not enough pension money to cover their basic needs, in the developing world we have younger populations that cannot find work. Demographically, there are so many pressures such as urban over-crowding.

And all of this in a world of abundance, in a world where human knowledge and advanced science offers so many solutions. It’s enough to drive anyone to drink – if you could afford all the additional “sin taxes” placed on booze and other pleasures.

Now, to come back to the original question I asked, how do you feel about the current state of the world? There’s a good chance that at least 98% of people reading this would be pretty negative, based on what the above scenario describes.

But here’s the deal: While there are still many problems in the world, today we live in an era better than ever before in human history! There have never been so many people living in true democracies, and where we can kick out politicians who don’t do their jobs. There is much good legislation that protects us from unscrupulous people and organisations. Most countries have a free media and an independent judiciary, (in spite of attempts by powerful politicians and unscrupulous business people to prevent them from publishing the truth.) Yes, the world’s economy right now seems to be in a mess, but we are still better off than people who lived even 100 years ago. Extreme poverty has been more than halved from about 1.2 billion people in the 1980s, to less than 500 million today. Many of the sociological problems we encounter have already been solved, (think about all of the diseases and illnesses that would have easily killed you just 50 years ago, and are now treatable and preventable,) and the statistics for others, such as crime and various forms of abuse, are all moving in the right direction.

Technology has given us a lot more convenience, free time and freedom than ever before, where simple inventions like cars, dishwashers, freezers and even the simple act of switching on a light, have allowed people to do the things that make them happier. The changes in the international conditions mean we are able to export goods and services to every part of the globe, and can visit exotic places and eat exotic foods which we could only read about before. While as a “tree-hugger” I am distressed about what happens to our precious earth because of human greed, I also know that there are millions of scientists developing answers to problems of pollution, global warming and destruction of renewable resources.

But there’s also another very important lesson here: while most of the world’s human beings think that we live in an age of stress and anxiety, and share perceptions of how terrible it is to be alive today, (the 98% mentioned above,) your business can be the beacon of hope that gives them some sense of optimism. You and the rest of your team can be the oasis in your customers’ desert of despair by putting a smile on their faces, by giving them hope in a seemingly hopeless world, by showing them that it’s not as bad as they think it is, by reminding them about how great it is to be alive today, and by displaying humanity and integrity in everything that you do.

You can give them a sense of reassurance and trustworthiness that you will never let them down, and you can be an example (to other businesses) of love and caring and warmth, and prove to customers that they are valued – even though some of them may not deserve it. (I always love that expression that says: “Be kind to unkind people… They are the ones who need it the most.”)

You can spark their enthusiasm with the passion you feel about what you do, and create delight, excitement and surprise with small acts of kindness or innovation. You can give back to the communities that you operate from, and show a spirit of generosity that will overwhelm their minds.

Your business and your people can change your customer’s lives. Do you have the courage to go against the flow and to do so today? It could be the most important thing you do.

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