Society is basically good

Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing

Industrialization is grinding the planet to dust, pollution radically changing our climate, population increasing to unsustainable levels, disease and poverty continue to spread and politicians worldwide bicker foolishly over non-issues; we’ve gotten ourselves into a terrible mess, but nonetheless, society is basically good.

Looking around our world we can find much to criticize, and justifiably so. Distracted and driven by fear, people who otherwise are capable of reasoned thought, empathy, compassion for others, altruistic sacrifice, common decency and ordinary kindness resort instead to selfishness, greed, blame, anger and violence. Observing such behavior, it’s easy to conclude that people are basically bad, and that society is equally so. Resting on such conclusions, however, leads to nihilism and the further degradation of human life and our environment.

We are bound together at birth by a goodness that is foundational to each life, and its extension to others is the basis of the formation of a good society. Society reflects our collective aspirations as we strive to build upon the inheritance of our basic goodness; that such aspirations become confused or even perverted does not stain the original goodness with which life begins. If we examine our collective societal institutions, we can find expressions of goodness at the heart of each.

The American medical system is completely screwed up, for example, but its roots are set in our natural compassion for the sick and our desire to relieve suffering. The educational system is a wreck, but the basis of its existence is the positive intention to provide teaching and instruction to children so that they can better their lives and the lives of others. Courts, law enforcement and our system of justice are in terrible shape, but at their core is our collective desire for harmony, peace, justice and decency. So it is for most other major institutional elements of society; remembering this helps to counteract the cynicism and doubt that so often plagues and hobbles our confidence, preventing us from keeping our heads held high, and sustaining our energy and aspirations.

Popular media feeds our fears and suspicions, increases doubt in the basic goodness of life, ourselves, others and society at large. Media activity is economically based, however, entertainment shilling for commercial profit. Greed is a shallow and callous guide to follow, used to manipulate opinion and human behavior. But even money is basically good, rooted in providing a medium of exchange so that goods and services can be more widely distributed to those who have need of them.

Systemic change begins one person, one relationship at a time. Society is nothing more than an increasingly complex structure of interconnected relationships, scaled-up to large numbers. If individual relationships retain appreciation and awareness of goodness, then of course society as a whole will naturally reflect that. There is no mystery; the more confused and dysfunctional we are as individuals, the more confused and dysfunctional society will appear.

The revolution that will save our planet and humanity, if it is to happen, is not one of guns, riots or uprisings, and rather will arise from trust and confidence in the basic goodness of each of us and each other. Thus the expression of basic goodness begins at home, and naturally extends from family to friends, to neighbors, communities and to society overall. Goodness has sustained human society for hundreds of thousands of years, and it remains ours’ and society’s greatest strength.

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