I don’t know any research to back this up but I doubt it’s an exaggeration to say that most people think the world is in a mess and probably getting worse.
But is this so?
Yesterday our boiler repairman, Geoff, came to fix a problem that he first visited last January but unknowingly left partially unsolved. I told him about it several days later, but since it was a problem we could live with, I suggested he wait until our regular servicing this summer to address it. In the meantime, I narrowed the problem down to either a mal-functioning thermostat or incorrect wiring. The first was going to cost somewhere in the region of $500 to fix, the latter was due to an error Geoff had made in January. I budgeted for the former.
When Geoff arrived, I told him the problem and left him to it while I fixed him a cup of coffee. Ten minutes later he emerged into the kitchen and said “It’s fixed.” Then slapping the back of his hand, added “it was my error.”
What was so uplifting about this for me was that there was no way I would have suspected foul play if Geoff had disappeared into the boiler room for an hour or so, and then announced that the problem had been fixed. He might even had added a feel-good factor by giving me a discount and charging me “only” $400 instead of $500.
When I told him that, he said “oh no, it was my fault. I put my hand up to it.”
My question is: “Is Geoff just one in a million?” Would most repairmen try to make money on their own mistakes? Surely there are many who would. Surely there are many who at least would not admit that the mistake had been theirs, even if they did not charge to correct it.
I’m not convinced Geoff is one in a million. I think I know a lot of honest people. In fact, I think I know more people who are honest and truthful and sometimes even incredibly generous than not.
But honesty and generosity doesn’t make news. Crime does. Tragedy does. Even really good news makes the headlines far less often than bad.
I wonder why. Is it because we really are on the road to destruction? Do we think we really are all sinners and cheats at heart? Do we really believe that the bad will win out in the end? Does bad news give us a tremor that boring old good news often does not? Or is the good news often harder to see because it is more private? Is that act of kindness that means so much – that might even change a life – simply not available for the journalist to see and so report?