Few things bother me more than the deluge of posts on every facet of social media that claim “faith in humanity: restored.” What a bleak outlook that must be, any way you slice it. Either you’re emotionally malleable to the point that your feelings about the world regularly swing 180 degrees, which doesn’t say a lot about the quality of those feelings, or you see so little good in the world that an online video of a stranger doing something kind (read: something we should all be doing anyway) makes you abandon your position and proclaim that all is right with humanity. Or you’re just a poor chooser of words and have gotten sucked into the clickbait word vortex and know of no other way to voice your happiness.
I’m reminded of Dickens: “Men who look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right; but the sombre colours are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.” One uplifting video on the internet should not restore your faith in humanity any more than one heinous act of terrorism or violence should take it away. Humanity is an enormous, complicated sum of parts that completely defies all of our reductive pigeonholing. School shootings, discrimination, wanton violence—these things are terrible, almost namelessly so. But they are far from the sum of our collective hopes and dreams. They are far from the total of our ambitions and achievements.
I realize how callous it might seem that I presume to talk about things like this. By most standards, I have led an enormously untroubled life. And as a white, cisgender, heterosexual male, I am the farthest thing from a target demographic for the world’s hatred and persecution.
But I still feel qualified to talk about hurt, if not on a macro level. I hurt plenty, and I have hurt plenty, and I think part of being alive is that that never goes away. You do learn from it, though. You learn to compartmentalize, to self-criticize and self-critique. You learn that there is no love like first love and that you will never again be as happy, or as sad, as you were at sixteen. You learn that scar tissue, by whichever nefarious means it has been created, is tougher than skin.
Don’t let your faith in humanity be restored by simple acts of kindness. To do so means that you have let your faith in humanity be taken away by simple acts of violence, of evil or anger or revenge. We are better than that, and worse, and we would do well to remember it. Words and phrases ring hollow when they become so overused. Try a new way of saying things—You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next.