I know it seems like the world is in trouble these days. The Euro is collapsing, congress is paralyzed with stupidity, the environment is going to the dumps, house prices are crashing, fuel prices are soaring and Black Friday shoppers are now using pepper spray on one another. So yes, it’s easy to get depressed about the state of the world and it’s easy to fall into that mode of “everything’s awful” and “we’re all doomed”. However, this isn’t just unproductive, it’s also untrue. I look at the world around me and I see wonders. I see incredible people doing amazing things and I am in awe of where we are and how quickly we’re moving forward. So today, I’d like to write down a few of these things I’m grateful for, a few things to remind myself that this is indeed a wonderful world.
What Am I Grateful For?
Instant Communication – When my family first came to the US in 1984, we kids were told that we can only talk to our grand parents once per week, after midnight and for no more than 5 minutes. International phone calls were simply too expensive back then and a five minute, late night call back home was all we could afford. Today, I spend hours on the phone with my dad who still lives back in Israel. A few weeks ago I got a new hair cut and, when he asked me how it looked, I simply used the video conferencing feature on my phone to show him. Think about that for a second. 30 years ago we could barely afford to say hello and today I can live video chat with him at will without even thinking about cost. That’s amazing! I stay in touch with my college friends in Rhode Island via Facebook, I text my wife a picture of the shirt I’m thinking of buying, I chat via instant messenger with a coworker in Europe and all without even considering the incredible progress we’ve made in communication.
So today, rather than being frustrated that the supercomputer in my pocket isn’t downloading a movie fast enough over the airwaves, I’m just going to be thankful that we have this amazing technology that allows us to keep in touch like never before.
Fast Travel – To come here from Israel in 1984 was an ordeal. We had to plan our travel months in advance and it cost my parents a good portion of their savings just to get that one way ticket. Twenty years before that and it took my mom and her parents two weeks in a cramped train and then the cargo hold of a freighter to travel from Romania to Israel. These days I could drive 20 minutes to the airport and get a reasonably priced ticket to just about anywhere in the world in minutes. I could be in Europe tomorrow if I really wanted to, or in Asia. If my dad’s girlfriend tells me that she’s throwing a surprise birthday party for him I could be in Israel in under 24 hours and without bankrupting myself. Even better, local travel is also faster and cheaper. I could be in LA in three hours if needed. I can drive to Reno and be snowboarding in under 5 hours (assuming they have snow up there) or down to Santa Cruz and paddling out on a surfboard in under 2. My wife and I can go for a weekend to Portland or Salt Lake City or Denver or Vancouver or Las Vegas or a dozen other reasonable destinations. How different is this from the days when you never left your village? How lucky we are to be living in a world where a trip to another continent is not a once in a lifetime event and joining the army is not the only way to see the world.
So today, rather than being annoyed at rush hour traffic or angry at the lack of mall parking, I’m thankful that we have a world which modern transportation has made a whole lot smaller.
Access To Knowledge – I remember when we got our first set of encyclopedias. I started reading them right at the first volume. I got through about 200 pages before I found better things to do with my time. I also remember doing research in college when the only way to find something out was in the limited set of books at the school library. (Anyone remember microfiche?) Today, we have all the knowledge of man kind at our fingertips. I can look up the menu of the nearby hamburger place, reviews on the car shop I’m considering taking my car to, podcasts teaching you how to speak French, a history of Masada, articles on how to lose weight, the lyrics to Warrant’s Cherry Pie or a great Xmas song and all for free. This is literally incredible. We have so much knowledge at our disposal that it’s almost impossible not to learn something new every day. You have to try really hard to be ignorant these days. Compare that to a couple of hundred years ago when owning a book other than the bible was rare and knowing anything about the world around you was something only rich people could afford to spend time on.
So today, rather than being angry at how slow my phone is loading the latest youtube video or how horribly slanted the latest news story seems to be, I’m thankful that I can give myself an education (for free!) the likes of which my ancestors could only dream of.
Multiculturalism – My grandparents spent much of WW2 under Nazi rule. My grandfather survived the work camps but his first wife and two kids were not so lucky. My grandmother survived Auschwitz, although she never spoke about her experience. They married after the war, had my mother and my aunt and settled down in Romania. Ten years later, they escaped Romania, just ahead of the incoming communists and their anti Jewish policies. After their voyage to Israel, they were greeted by Sephardic (Middle Eastern) Jews who welcomed them to Israel by throwing rocks through their windows and chanting “Ashkenazi, go home!” referring to their European heritage. Everybody hated everyone for the slightest of differences. Compare that to today.
Three months ago I married a woman of Irish Catholic descent and no one on her side of the family or mine cared even a little bit at our different histories and heritage. One of my employees was born in Germany, another in Hong Kong, a third in Vietnam, a fourth in New Delhi and a fifth in San Jose. We all work together and learn from our different cultures. My friend who is white, has been in a committed relationship with a woman who is part black for four years now and no body cares. Think about that for a second and compare it to only a few decades ago when in some states a black man could be lynched for whistling at a white woman. My mother, a refugee herself and the daughter of two survivors of one of the worst genocidal regimes in history was recently invited to her boss’s house to celebrate diwali, an Indian holiday. To me, that’s awesome! I love this society we live in and I love how accepting we are of each other.
So today, instead of worrying about illegal immigrants from Mexico or Christian Evangelicals from Texas, I’m just happy to live in a world where religion, race and national origin are no longer things to hide and be killed over. (yes, I know they still are in some places but we’ve made and are making incredible progress).
Clean Environment – What is this you ask? How can I be happy about a clean environment when I also worry about global warming? Well, because on the whole we’re making great progress. Do we still have a ways to go? Sure, but look at where we are today. We have cars that put out less pollution driving a hundred miles than a car forty years ago did standing still for 2 minutes at a stop light. We have national parks that preserve whole environments. We’re cleaning up our oceans. Humpback whales are making a come back as are bald eagles and the California Condor. Wolves are back to Yellowstone and mountain lions (AKA cougars or panthers depending on what state you’re in) now roam freely from California to Florida. Our water is cleaner than it was 10 years ago, our air is clearer and our forests are better protected. Yes, we’re still inflicting great damage on the world around us but at least we’re aware of it now and are actively trying to fix things.
So today, I’m not going to complain about the slight haze in the air, I’m just going to be happy that I don’t live in a world where the buildings are black from factory soot and the rivers are public sewage channels.
Opportunity – How upwardly mobile do you think the common man was three hundred years ago? Do you think a peasant had the opportunity to be anything but a peasant? How about two hundred years ago? Do you think a shopkeeper could aspire to opening a chain of stores and becoming rich or was he barely scraping by? How about a hundred years ago? Do you think most factory workers had a future? Do you think they believed their kids would have a better life or would the child follow them into whatever dirty, unsafe career the parent had? Today, all we have is opportunity. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to come by and sometimes you need to try and try and try and try again before you’re finally successful but the opportunity is there if you’re willing to work for it. No one ever said life was fair but at least life these days can be improved with enough work. Life is no longer something that needs to be tolerated in misery while hoping that things are better in the next world. We have adult education, career retraining, college, vocational schools, night courses, weekend classes, small business loans, micro lending, internet entrepreneurs and boot strapped businesses, all of which can be used to improve our lives. I can take my idea for a business from nothing to something in under a month and with very little money up front.
So today, I’m not going to complain about my work. Instead, I’m going to be happy that I live in a world where if I don’t like the way my life is going, I can change it.
Modern Medicine – I know, I know, modern medicine sucks. It’s too expensive, there are too many pills, it’s too commercial, there are too many pharma companies trying to make money on us, we can’t trust doctors, blah blah blah. Sure, I read the news too. Still, modern medicine is amazing. My mother had an extremely bad break in her leg two years ago. Even 30 years ago that kind of injury would have left her crippled for life and probably on her death bed. Today she’s walking on her own without needing a cane. My father in law had a heart incident last year at Xmas time. He was literally dead for several minutes and in a coma for days. 10 years ago his odds of surviving would have been 1% and, even if he had survived, he would have suffered brain damage. Today, he’s biking 15 miles a day, working full time, having a wonderful time with his grandkids and still trying to find a new girlfriend. My post lasik perfect vision, my friend’s cancer treatment, my dog’s vaccinations, my dad’s shoulder surgery and countless others are all evidence of the power of modern medicine. Yes, we have problems with how we administer medicine and to who, but don’t tell me that modern medicine isn’t the miracle that it is.
Today, rather than complain about pharma companies, I’m just grateful that I can a live a full and healthy life, have kids in my late 30′s and still expect to live to see my great grandkids.
Life is wonderful folks. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that before we drown in our daily worries.