Winner: 2016’s Blog of the Year
Here’s what I don’t get: why is there an it’s too good to be true, but not an, it’s too bad to be true? When the crime rate’s gone down steadily for over 3o years; when tons of people volunteered to go into helping professions; when such a tiny percentage of the population ever gets in trouble, why are we so quick to assume the worst?
We all want the world to be better and yet we’ll actively engage in kind of paranoia. There is no reason we couldn’t look a stranger in the eye as we walked past them on a street because our odds of getting a scowl would be very low and our odds of a smile would be very good (almost 100% if you go first), and if we do miss that positive experience it’ll probably be because the other person is still looking down, assuming that we’ll be a bad experience.
There are marginal excuses for these unhealthy, disconnecting behaviours. If you’ve been traumatised then it can be possible to find yourself unrealistically but validly hyper-concerned, but for the average person that jaundiced view of humanity is completely unjustified. The vast majority of people we’ll meet in a day treat us nicely, and we ourselves spend time being in that remaining minority too, so we’re better not to judge.
If you’re watching closely you see evidence of this goodness every day. Giving money to the homeless means someone is volunteering to be poorer with no gain to themselves except the good feelings that come from that sort of compassion. Friends write supportive messages, people make positive social media posts, within every bad news story there will be heroes. People are polite, they tell jokes, they go outside the bounds of their job to help you for no gain to themselves. It’s everywhere.
Police risk their lives to protect people. Firefighters run into burning buildings to save strangers. Doctors save patients. People give blood. They run and walk and cycle countless miles for countless charities. They hold doors for usu, they give us compliments, or maybe even just a smile. People are overwhelmingly good, even if they’re not always doing what we want them to.
How can we benefit by thinking the worst of others? We’re doing the thinking. That’s happening inside our head, and it’s our body that’s experiencing the negative reaction that comes from negative thinking. The person we’re thinking about probably doesn’t even know or care. They might be busy, happily smiling while we’re wasting our lives thinking dark, suspicious thoughts.
May I suggest that our lives will improve the moment we adopt a new paradigm? Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. Rather than thinking that the world is conspiring against us, we start thinking that it’s conspiring in our favour.
Instead of mistrusting someone because we think they’re going to do something behind our back, we’ll trust them and stay open to the idea that they might reward us unexpectedly. Or if we have some big project fall through, instead of feeling like a failure, we can instead happily assume it’s because we’ll need the time and resources for something even better!
People who scowl a lot will tell you that pronoics are silly and unrealistic but those scowling people also live inside their beliefs –beliefs which suggest that optimistic, trusting, positive views are less likely than pessimistic, untrustworthy and negative ones. But they’re scowling; and for every one of them I could introduce you to some extremely successful person and they will talk about how they can’t believe how lucky they’ve been.
You can go through life watching for bad things and I assure you you will find them just as day turns to night. At the same time, if you go through life watching for good things then I assure you, you will learn to turn nighttime into daylight.
We’re good people. The people walking toward us have every reason to assume that. And they’re just like us. So going forward let’s all try offering more help, accepting more help, and just in general let’s get off our phones and get back to each other. Because when it comes to improving society and connecting with people in the moment we’re in, there’s simply no app for that. So let’s go practice some pronoia.