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Can We Have More of This? On The Skills That Make For a Better Society

To my knowledge, I have never once modeled the behavior of flushing public toilets that were not used by me. My daughter (she’s five) tells me, “There are a lot of poops in the bathroom at school and people just leave them there.” I listened wondering why, of all the things to share about your day, this is what’s making the cut?? 

She went on to explain that she flushes the abandoned poop-filled toilets every time she sees them. Somehow, this tiny human took it upon herself to take care of a problem she did not create and was not hers to fix (and this is the kicker) without credit, complaint, or tattle-telling (I expected tattle-telling, tbh).

Listen, I have doubts that we’re going to improve the state of the world anytime soon. Dunces have inherited the earth and we’re all along for the ride until they succeed at destroying each other or choose to play a different game. 

What I do know is despite the inanity that is public life at the moment, there are still decent humans among us, even if their radical act of kindness is flushing public toilets.

Like everyone else, I’m getting caught up in the lunacy. Independent thought is being quashed with a force as strong as an infant who just discovered a banana. Smeared all over the floor and the walls and somehow in our hair, but nowhere close to our brains. We are so credulous that we believe bad-faith arguments without so much as a blink; and fall head over heels in love with anyone who can give us the illusion of certainty in a soundbite. 

I’m happy to go down a “blame the algorithm” or “blame the person” rabbit hole with you, but I don’t find either of those postures to be all that helpful.

We have a basic skill deficit in this country that is culturally constructed and socially upheld. I’ve been making a list of skills I see lacking and I am curious if you’re seeing the same. Irrespective of age, it seems society’s susceptibility to accepting very stupid ideas at face value is exploding exponentially. 

Here’s my list, feel free to repost and add to it. I’d love to see what other people are observing. 

  • Discernment
  • Determining valid moral equivalence
  • Independent thought
  • Resisting the urge to use ad hominem attacks all the freaking time
  • Distinguishing moral courage from virtue signaling
  • Self-awareness 
  • Ability to hold two conflicting thoughts in our minds at once
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Real intimacy, friendships, and connection 
  • De facto assuming we are missing details or context and asking for more information 
  • Pausing before reaching a conclusion or offering an opinion 
  • Reading a boring, but important, book
  • Reading a boring, but important, paper
  • Reading a boring, but important, literally anything
  • When to be kind vs when to be right
  • Conflict and repair
  • Taking accountability for our behavior
  • Acknowledging our cognitive biases 
  • Reading to the end of an article before forwarding it to 30 people with the caption,“Must read”
  • Any moral reasoning whatsoever
  • Using the words, “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” or “Can I think about it?”
  • Tolerating uncertainty
  • Basic statistics
  • Research methods
  • Distinguishing correlation and causation
  • Separating objective facts from our feelings about those facts
  • Listening thoughtfully 
  • Interrogating our own bias 
  • Emotional regulation 
  • Nervous system regulation
  • Somatic awareness and insight
  • Intellectual honesty
  • Discriminating between a defensible position from an extremely stupid one

I’m sure there are more.

We’re all filled with terror and grasping for certainty and belonging in a world that can give us neither (affiliation is not belonging. When you go along with a position to be part of a group, you don’t belong to the group, you’re affiliated with the group. You get the external credit, but you’re still left empty and unfulfilled. Because relationships based on an image you’re projecting of yourself are not real relationships).

At this stage in the game, if someone is committed to their delusion, I fear we have to let them go. I’m not convinced there is a level of civil discourse possible with someone who won’t contend honestly with themselves or reality.

I’ll tell you what keeps me hopeful, though.

That tiny human flushing public toilets.

Bearing witness to unacknowledged and often invisible acts of kindness and personal responsibility – that’s the stuff. No magazine covers, no big galas, no giant social movements, no “game-changing” company “revolutionizing” the world. Just one person acting in integrity in one small way. Offering your seat to someone on the subway. Bringing your sick friend a meal. Sending gifts to someone in grief. Checking in on each other. Including someone new in your weekly group dinner. Changing your mind when you encounter new information. Sharing the last bite of your food. Saying thank you and meaning it. Saying no thank you, and meaning it. Offering a sincere apology. Cat sitting for your friend. Putting the clothes you try on back on the rack. Telling someone you love them just because.

Being a decent human being who cares. Without needing a reason to. 

It makes this giant spinning rock a little less of a garbage fire.

I don’t know if there’s a critical mass of decent human beings on this Earth yet, but they are among us. 

And that’s reason enough for me to keep playing music on the Titanic.

To look up and appreciate the view of the stars for the five minutes we are here.