Saturday, August 18, 2007

To Hell In A Handbasket

Life is largely a matter of expectation.
- Horace, Roman poet (65 BC - 8 BC)

What we believe about life is determined largely by our experience. What happened in the sphere of our lives in the past will, we believe, continue and possibly be increased in the future.

Whether what we experienced in the past represents in any valid manner the real state of the world in which we lived is not just in some doubt, but is irrelevant to most people. Experience is life. Truth is what we can wring and wrench out of our experience. It's hard to convince anyone of a truth if their experience tells them the opposite.

As children we perceive the world totally according to our experience because we don't have enough "truths" from our reading or dialogue to think differently. For most of us adults, our expectation of life in the future was shaped largely in our childhood.

A child who experiences a great deal of fear or abuse will have a great deal of trouble trusting anyone as an adult. Even periods where the adult may trust someone such as a spouse or great friend implicitly may be punctuated by other times when that person finds it difficult to trust anyone.

Children raised in a healthy atmosphere with healthy foods and healthy activities usually continue those practices as adults. They may have "off" periods during their young adult lives, but they almost always return to the habits they learned as children.

Children who grow up in creative families, always involved with building, devising, inventing, testing and improving generally have adult lives that mirror their childhood experiences. Similarly, children who live in families with an unstimulating atmosphere usually (but not always) become adults who depend largely on entertainment generated by others. And on others for their employment.

Children of sports fans become sports fans as adults and no one expects it to be any different.
As we age we may experience more times when people deceive us, disappoint us, steal from us, cheat us or report information to us as fact when it is, at best, a distorted version of something that happened. The cumulative effect of these experiences may determine how we treat others in our later working and senior years.

Negative experiences weigh heavily on us and tend to accumulate as facts of life while positive experiences hold less weight on our memories and must be experienced far more often than negative ones in order for us to not believe that the world is getting worse as we get older.

The writers of ancient Egypt recorded their beliefs that their children were less disciplined and more inclined to be disrespectful and waste their time than the older generation. People have believed that the world was going to hell in a handbasket (or to hell in a wheelbarrow) for centuries, using those exact words.

But is it? Not likely. It mostly can be explained by the fact of cumulative negative experiences making people believe that the world is getting worse as they get older. That may partly explain why family size in developed countries is much smaller than in developing countries, as people with better education tend to be more aware of news of the world and believe that they "don't want to bring children into a world like this."

Fewer wars are taking place today than ever before in history. Health conditions in most of the world are better than ever before. People are better educated in most parts of the world than in the past. People know more today than their ancestors. New cures for medical conditions are announced almost weekly. More people live healthier and happier lives today than ever. People today may live decades longer than their grandparents or earlier generations and be more ctive and joyful while doing it.

Experience may not tell us that information, which accounts for why many people do not have an optimistic view of the future.

If we want a better future, let's not leave it to the creative and healthy families to spread their influence. That will take too long. We need to change how our schools educate our children so that two dozen or more young people with positive attitudes toward the future will emerge from each class.

That won't cost a cent. But we will have to talk to others about it so that the changes can be made at the classroom level.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to make the world a more positive place with fewer problems.
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