There is much good in the world, even though we often don’t see it. Grumpy Scrooges would have us believe the world stinks. But things aren’t as bad as the cynics contend.
Consider this recent story. In Fresno, an Applebee’s server named Brian Geery discovered a bag with $32,000 left in the restaurant. Geery did the right thing and returned the money to its owners. That’s a story of common decency, reminiscent of that old Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
In an interview Geery explained, “I’m a big believer in karma. I just feel like you treat others as you would want to be treated.”
Karma and the golden rule are good guides for a wonderful life.
The good news is that generosity, compassion, hospitality, honesty, and integrity create positive ripples. Peace on Earth and goodwill to men grow from the decent decisions of ordinary people like Geery and millions of others who believe it is good to do the right thing.
While cranky commentators rant about the decline of civilization, we often forget the vast majority is trustworthy, kind and reasonable. But the good is taken for granted. We don’t notice the daily decency of honest people. We go about our business, leading wonderful lives in quiet obscurity. We pay our bills, raise our children and contribute to the common good.
None of that makes the headlines. Headline news often prefers scandals, violence and cynical sniping. War, hate and misery catch our eye. The grumpy grousers magnify the bad, amplifying outrage and anxiety.
The world isn’t perfect. There is always some bad news somewhere for the grumblers to gripe about. But good is as easy to find as the reliable labor and moral integrity of people like Geery and good old George Bailey of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Here’s a suggestion. Use the interlude between Christmas and the New Year to consider good news. Construct a year-end list of all the signs of decency you’ve experienced. Consider the smile of your waiter, the friendly wave of a neighbor, and the effort of every teacher, mentor and friend you’ve ever had. For most of us, the good outweighs the bad. And if it doesn’t, then it is up to you to push the balance in the right direction.
Decency is more widespread than the cynics allow. Consider the sheer number of good deeds done on Earth each year. According to the World Giving Index, last year 2.2 billion people helped a stranger, 1.4 billion people donated money, and 1 billion people volunteered their time.
The most generous country last year was Myanmar, followed by the U.S. and New Zealand. Americans donate a lot to charity: over $350 billion in 2014. Good for us. But in modest little Myanmar, 90 percent of adults reported giving to charity. They don’t have a lot to give, but they give a lot.
The Buddhist culture of Myanmar helps explain this ubiquitous benevolence. Charity is connected with the effort to overcome egoistic attachment, pride and anger. If you want to feel liberated from the burdens of life, stop complaining and start giving.
While generosity liberates us from egoism, gratitude lightens the soul, reminding us that good exists. Gratitude teaches us to be open and accepting. Instead of greedily focusing on what we lack, we give thanks for what we have received. Gratitude teaches us to accept more and reject less – to wag more and bark less, as the bumper sticker says.
Imagine how grateful you would feel if someone like Geery returned a lost treasure. Now, pause to realize that each day is a prize, each handshake a gift and every smile is a treasure.
That’s the message of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In one scene a sign on the wall proclaims: “All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” That’s a proverb worth remembering, a recipe for a wonderful life.
Next year, there will be work to be done to improve the world. There always is. So take time now to recharge your moral batteries. Stop listening to the grumps. Find some good news – or make some of your own. Give thanks. And pause to reflect on the gentle power of karma and the golden rule.