As this year draws to a close, many of us will reflect on how good or bad it was. We will no doubt measure its success in terms of work, career, family, and bank balances. Did we get that promotion? Did we sign that new deal? Did our sons and daughters graduate, marry, have kids? Did we manage to save, buy that flat, start that pension? Did we reduce our golf handicap or play the best tennis ever? Did we make the team? Did we write that book, learn to tango, or clear out the attic. For others, the win might be in having survived another year, beaten a disease, recovered from an accident or serious illness. And for more, it might be simply in having had enough to eat and somewhere to sleep.
How we measure success is very individual. How we count our lucky stars depends on our definition of luck. How we determine whether we glad or sorry to see the back of 2012 will very much depend on how we perceive success, how we rate happiness, and how we measure our own achievements.
It’s certainly been a turbulent year in terms of politics, in terms of the struggle for national identity, in terms of global peace. For every story we have of misfortune, someone out there can trump it. For every tale we have of success, someone out there has done better. Everything is relative.
The flip side of the coin
In a year that saw the Queen celebrate her Jubilee and cement the world’s relationship with the British monarchy, the Encyclopaedia Britannica discontinued its print edition – a signal perhaps of the waning power of the printing press. In a year that saw Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3, a North Korean Earth observation satellite, explode shortly after launch, Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s rover, successfully landed on Mars. In a year that saw Lonesome George, the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise subspecies, die at a Galapagos National Park, thus making the subspecies extinct, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance during a record space dive from a helium-filled balloon from 24 miles (39 km) over Roswell, New Mexico, USA.
Cause and effect
Our world is changing beyond recognition. Social media is transforming how we communicate. We are dealing in large part with an unknown. We can’t measure the power or the reach of the Internet – of social media. Cyberbullying is becoming a serious threat in our schools. The NRA bumper sticker that reads ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people’ says something. In the aftermath of the series of terrorist attacks directed against US, German and British diplomatic missions worldwide, opinions in the USA were divided over whether the attacks were in reaction to a Youtube trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims. It’s becoming more and more difficult to reason the cause and effect of what’s happening every day. Our newspapers are full of disaster; our journalists report on atrocities; our TV stations are bent on screening the worst of what’s available to see.
When doing good goes viral
There is hope, though. Millions of people worldwide are doing good deeds every minute of every day. They’re just not reported. Okay – so a few make the headlines – thanks to social media. Take the case of New York City cop, Larry DePrimo, who bought a pair of boots and socks for a homeless guy on his beat. He couldn’t have known that a tourist would snap his act of generosity last month and post it on Facebook. It went viral. Earlier this year, in September, Winnipeg transit bus driver Kristian Doubledee stopped his bus, took off his shoes, and handed them to a homeless man whom he had seen walking barefoot. A passenger blogged it and it, too, went viral. In Scotland, Armstrong Baillie has been doing good deeds for the last six months dressed as a character he calls the Good Giraffe. The unemployed 32-year-old funds his good deeds by busking and has captured the hearts and minds of the reading Scottish public.
Einstein is on record as having said: Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value. What a concept. Imagine if that was what we all focused on, how we all measured success: how much value we have added to the world. A case in point is the Christmas classic – Scrooge. As he discovers the joy of good deeds, he gets on a ‘helper’s high’ and his spirit is reborn. Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, published the results of a study earlier this year that shows how altruism can be the antidote to stress. Imagine how much time and money we could save on medical bills were we to do just one good deed a day in 2013. Who cares whether it goes viral…
First published in the Budapest Times 7/12/2012