Cait is studying US History and Current Events in one of her classes. She came home bemoaning how the world just seems to be getting crazier and crazier. I couldn’t disagree.
She asked, “Mom, do you think there are more bad people today than when you were growing up?”
I grew up during the Cold War, when the threat of the Soviet Union and the US lobbing nuclear missiles at each other was ever-looming. So, while this terrorist stuff is definitely hazardous to our health, it can pale in comparison to the worry of instant mass world extinction.
I said, “First of all, this is a complicated subject, and to some extent good and bad are relative terms based on what country someone lives in and what culture they’re shaped by. The terrorists think we’re bad.”
Cait started protesting.
I raised my hand to interrupt her, “I understand what you’re asking, though. And the answer is, no, honey. I’d guess the number of people who wish to do harm to others probably pretty much stays the same relative to the whole population.”
“Then why does the world feel like a scarier place by the minute?” she asked?
“I think part of that perception is fueled by the news media. Bad news sells. Good news doesn’t. And with 24 hours of air time on radio and t.v., and thousands of newspapers around the world to fill, that’s a lot of bad news.
“Sure doesn’t give me much hope that there’s going to be much of a world left by the time I grow up,” Cait looked depressed.
“Nobody’s got a crystal ball, Cait. But here’s the way I look at it to help keep myself sane. It’s true that there are a lot of destructive people out there, but they probably only add up to a few million people total. Would you agree?”
“I guess so. I don’t know. But even that seems like a lot.” She looked at me with concern.
“Yeah, that is a lot if you don’t look at the whole picture. Let’s put it into some perspective and do the math. If there are 6.6 billion people in the world now, I think it would be a stretch to say that even 6.6 million of them are intent on harm on any given day. That’s only .01% of the population! That leaves close to 99.9% of the rest of the population around the world who are just trying to live their lives, love their families, and contribute in the way they can. 99.9%!”
“Oh.” I could see Cait start to absorb what that meant. “So 99.9% of the people in the world are just living their lives,” she said more to herself than to me.
“Give or take a few tenths of a percent,” I joked.
Cait wasn’t ready to be cajoled out of her somber mood. “But Mom, that doesn’t take away that there’s some really bad stuff going on in the world,” Cait said.
“No. It certainly doesn’t,” I answered. “And that’s why I try to speak out against the bad stuff. That’s why I make sure I vote. That’s why I get involved when I can, in what I can. Even simple things like recycling — it all adds up–you just have to try to make a difference where you can. Because, if even 1% of the population did that, that would be 66 million people standing up to make a difference. And I know a lot more people than just 1% chip in and dig in.”
I could see Cait thinking about that.
“I think that’s part of what kind of compounds the problem of the bad guys. Too many good guys don’t get involved because they think it’s hopeless. They get overwhelmed and think they can’t make a difference. You can’t let yourself think that way. Even a small change for the better makes a difference.”
“Yeah, but you hate politics,” Cait said.
I laughed. “I’m not even talking about politics. I’m talking about just walking outside and making a difference to one other person.”
Just then, Andrew came in from the driveway needing my help. In the dark, he hadn’t seen the sheet of ice on the driveway. He’d gotten his car stuck on a patch and needed me to drive while he pushed. Cait watched from the garage. Andrew and I couldn’t get the car unstuck. I was thinking we were going to have to call a tow truck. Just then, a stranger walking down our road seemed to appear from nowhere. He didn’t even ask if we needed help. He just stepped up next to Andrew and started pushing. The car was unstuck in two minutes. We thanked him and he went on his merry way.
When we came back into the house, Cait said, “That’s what you mean, huh Mom.”
“What?” I said. By then, I’d lost track of our earlier conversation.
“It just takes one person to make a difference,” she said.
I gave her a big hug. “Proof is in the pudding.”