The Other 99.9%

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.”

19 thoughts on “The Other 99.9%”

  1. Thanks for having faith in mankind and passing that on to your children. I believe in passing on good deeds to the next person who needs help. The world is full of good people. You just have to look. I also believe that if we do good deeds then good deeds come to us. Like attracts like. Have a glorious day.

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  2. Another beautiful, insightful story…and the best part is that your stories are the result of your own work to making this world a better place…
    Peace and wonder,
    CG

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  3. Sweet post! Cait is getting to that point where she is asking some really deep questions!
    You handled it well Mom!!

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  4. Tom, I’m not talking about people who may feel momentarily overwhelmed or frustrated. We all have those moments, those days.

    I’m talking about the percent of the population that means to do real harm to others. Even if that percent is as high as 5 or even 10% (which would put the numbers at 660,000,000) that still leaves 6 BILLION people who are just trying to mind their own business.

    My point to Cait was that the inundation of bad news skews people’s perceptions of what’s really going on in the world. And that can make it seem like all there are are bad guys. The net effect of that is that people often don’t feel they can trust anyone they don’t know. AND that’s a bad place to get to, IMO. I believe if you give most people half a chance, they’d lend you a hand. Just like that stranger, who without asking, just stepped up and pitched in.

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  5. Martina, it sure does seem extra loud everywhere to me too!

    Nutmeg, our house is also a news-free zone. But the school isn’t. And, unfortunately, they have a different idea of what’s age appropriate than I do. Such a push to rush these kids to grow up…

    Mrs.G. if there’s an inch of space anywhere, it seems, it’s filled with news or advertising.

    Lynn, I couldn’t believe the timing either–it was too perfect! That’s why, even though I want to give credit to a just an ordinary mortal showing up, the sychronicity makes me just have to leave room for the possibility that it really could have been an angel.

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  6. You could not have orchestrated the scene any better had you written it. What a perfectly wonderful illustration of your earlier talk with her.

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  7. This is a history, math and philosophy lesson all wrapped up in one. I agree with you though…too much news everywhere…even at the grocery stores in my area. They have little screens on the things you swipe your debit card on. I also agree that the world is mostly made up of mostly nice people.

    Great post.

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  8. I believe in people. I want my children to do the same. That’s why we make our home a news-free zone. No newspapers, no tv news. Nathan and I keep up with what is necessary – international news only really – online. It’s a choice we make now for our children that we will have to re-evaluate as they get into middle school. Food for thought today, Karen.

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  9. I thought it was just me being cranky and middle aged. Every thing seems to be loud, people on cell phones, news broadcasts of war and disaster seem to be higher volume, construction equipment, overhead pages at Home Depot! There are lots of nice people out there, it is just the bad people are more noticeable.

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  10. At first I thought of that guy as an angel. But then I thought that wasn’t really fair to the man (the human) who just thought it was the right thing to do to pitch in. And I thought it took away from exactly what I know to be true and was trying to say to Cait — that there are way way more good people (ordinary people doing good) in the world than bad.

    Though, I had to shake my head at his timing. :)

    Mary Alice thanks for that book recommendation. I’ll get it.

    Deb, I think that’s a brilliant way to put it — the world isn’t worse, just louder.

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  11. An angel for sure. Oh and have Cait read “The World Is Too Much with Us” by William Wordsworth…you would think it had been written today, instead of 200 years ago. Every age has had similar fears.

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  12. I remember in fourth grade (please don’t ask how long ago that was but Kennedy was President) I walked into the cloakroom and a clutch of girls was absolutely panic-stricken over Cuba.

    I agree, to the chagrin of several acquaintances, that the world isn’t worse just louder. That’s why I like freelance journalism, I can choose the good stuff and get it published.

    Thanks for visiting.

    And I owe you two emails; one on the petty tyrants and one on NaNo.

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  13. Your daughter is pretty young to be worrying about such things. But, I guess, I did at that age too. What a world we’re handing them, eh?

    Don’t you just love when God sends in an angel. :)

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