Reading the news nowadays can be one of the most disheartening things one can do. It seems that no matter which news outlet you use it seems every time that the world is a place of war, terror and ultimately suffering. But is truly the case? I recently read a paper by Dr. Steven Pinker, a Pulitzer prize-winning author and Harvard psychology professor, who said that we are, by average, living the most peaceful time in human history. I honestly couldn’t believe this as I, like so many other young people, see that we are living in a period where conflict is a part of our daily life. He however argued that the world is becoming a better place, and that the conflicts that we have are nothing compared to the ones fought in the 19th century. Could it be that he is right, and that our views are merely twisted by the impact of media? Or does this just show that young people are becoming more realistic, and less naïve, and capable of seeing the suffering of humanity in a deeper level? Whichever the case is, this opens up an interesting discussion about the mentality that people have about the state of our world.
Young people have great will to do good, and they are usually the most active and altruistic members of any society. They often see the world as a battleground between good and evil, and here is where the media can either support the fight or hamper it. A world shown as evil can lead one to feel powerless and alone, where as a world shown as a perfect place can lead a person to believe that everything has already been accomplished. The truth is always the best way to make people realize the boundaries of good and evil, and allow us to understand our own role in the big picture: where we stand, what powers are involved and most important of all, what can you do to help. It will also allow us to understand that the concept of good and evil are often far too subjective, and the one of the only battles, that I myself see as the clearest example of good in the world, is the support for universal human rights and human dignity.
I myself chose to join the World Youth Alliance as I see that the battle for human rights is far from over, and our greatest foe is not only the powers that try to dismantle them, but our own complacency. Just like a writer that shows his work too soon, we might also sink into the illusion that the work is done, where as we have only begun. The fight for human rights is never complete and we must always understand the truth behind every story, try to create lasting solutions and prepare for the long struggle. The impact of a single person can never be enough, and this must be understood by anyone wanting to create a better world. A single person can only make small changes alone, but a group can make a lasting impact. Here realism, meets with altruism to create actual achievements. This is the key idea that needs to be understood, especially in our individualistic world: “I am the savior of the world” has never helped anyone, and can lead young people falling into cynicism. Humility leads to deeper understanding of not only our own place in the world, but also makes you respect others in a deeper way.
Then what kind of an attitude should we embrace? Should we be pessimists, who never get surprised by the evil of human nature, or optimists, who risk losing their faith in humanity when confronted by the darker side of man? My personal experience is that every human being is capable of doing good, but the will is often lacking. People need to know that they are not alone against a cruel and unforgiving world, but they are members of the altruistic majority and the only thing they need is the will and the truth. The truth is that Pinker is right, but we still have a long way to go. His work only shows that whatever we are doing is working, and we need to keep pushing together in order to keep the momentum going.
Written by Otto Kaplas, a current regional intern at the WYA Middle East office in Lebanon.