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? And yet look how the people in this video assume good things are automatically suspicious:
People want the world to be better and yet they’ll actively engage in this kind of paranoia. There is no reason you couldn’t look a stranger in the eye as you walked past them on a street because your odds of getting a scowl would be very low and your odds of a smile would be very good (almost 100% if you go first), and if you do miss that positive experience it’ll probably be because the other person is still looking down, assuming that you’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. 98% of people we’ll meet in a day treat us nicely, and we ourselves spend time in that other 2% so we’d best not throw stones.
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 risk losing a patient to save them. People give blood. They run and walk and cycle countless miles for countless charities. They hold doors for you, they give you compliments, or maybe even just a smile. People are overwhelmingly good, even if they’re not always doing what you want them to.
How can you benefit by thinking the worst of others? You’re doing the thinking. That’s happening inside your head, and it’s your body that’s experiencing the negative reaction that comes from negative thinking. The person you’re thinking about probably doesn’t even care. They might be busy, happily smiling while you’re thinking your dark, suspicious thoughts.
May I suggest that your life would improve the moment you adopted a new paradigm? Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. Rather than thinking that the world is conspiring against you, you think that it’s conspiring in your favour. Instead of mistrusting someone because you think they’re going to do something behind your back, trust them and stay open to the idea that they might reward you unexpectedly. Or you have some big project fall through, instead of feeling like a failure, you can instead happily assume it’s because you’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 not only see them during the daytime; they’ll glow like stars at night.
You’re a good person. The people walking toward you have every reason to assume that. And they’re just like you. 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 you’re in, there’s simply no app for that. So go practice some pronoia. And trust me, if you’re paying attention you’ll quickly notice that you are not alone.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.