In his book, Haig deposits an alien on Earth and we get to see the craziness of everyday life through his eyes. His initial observations may provide a modicum of comfort to anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety as he wonders at the resilience of humans, hurtling towards certain death but still able to go about their everyday business. And the beauty and fortitude of the human spirit is just one of the things I like about man and woman kind. Life’s bloody scary and, when we stop and think about it, downright overwhelming. Most of us will be brought to our knees at some point by the whirligig of activity going on around us but, after a bit of time out, the majority of us stagger back to our feet and give life another go.
The human instinct to connect with each other is another of our more appealing traits. For most of us, our relationships with other people are what make life worth living. The alien in Haig’s book is confounded by the love that we humans have for each other and I suppose it does make us rather unique beings. Our families and friends are, more often than not, the steadfast landscape of our life. As the world has become smaller with the arrival of the Internet so our relationships with other people have become even more wide-ranging. I find the idea of people actually caring about someone on the other side of the world, who they’ve never even met, incredibly moving and yet this is the reality of modern life for a lot of people.
There is always going to be the odd bad apple but, I firmly believe that most people are good and have the natural urge to want to help rather than hurt. Again, let’s look at the Internet and how it has brought people together for the good of mankind. The recent ice bucket challenge craze for instance has united millions of people in the cause of raising money for Motor Neurone Disease. Also, how many times do we see people rushing to share information or pictures on social media sites when people are missing or possessions have been lost? This kind of behaviour serves no benefit to the sharer and is merely born out of a desire to help.
I enjoyed the news story recently where commuters in Australia used their combined force to tip a train and free a man who had slipped beneath it. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed less dramatic incidents where mishaps have occurred and people have rallied to help. I recently saw a woman take a tumble down an escalator and, without hesitation, a youth leapt over to the adjacent escalator, sprinting back up to the top to press the emergency stop button. Likewise when my elderly neighbour locked herself out of the house, the entire street became involved in the joint enterprise of getting her safely back inside.
There is no finer feeling than when we come together with others. We only have to look at the power of singing – I still have extremely happy memories of bellowing out along with the rest of the school in morning assemblies. And, the resurgence in the popularity of choirs would seem to suggest I’m not the only one. The enduring popularity of sporting events and concerts etc lies primarily with the liberating feeling that people get from soaking up the atmosphere of being part of a large crowd.
Now before you get too sneery at my Pollyanna-esque outlook, yes, I do know that there are lots of truly horrible things going on in the world. Since the dawn of time, wars and violence have raged throughout the world and this is something that Matt Haig acknowledges in his book. The same alien who is humbled by the human capacity for love is also struck by the propensity for violence that lies within us. As I said earlier, I think that most of the madness in the world is down to the minority rather than the majority but that doesn’t mean we aren’t all capable of bad behaviour. It would be easy to dismiss acts of violence as something ‘other’ people do but, the truth is, we all have the same feelings it’s just a question of whether we choose to indulge them or not.
I don’t consider myself to be a violent or aggressive person but that doesn’t mean I don’t experience feelings of anger. My default setting seems to be to repress any negative feelings I have towards other people which leads to resentment and anxiety. I’m not sure whether this is down to personality, upbringing or gender. I recently watched a documentary about prisons where a prison psychologist said that women prisoners internalise anger and so tend to succumb to self harming and mental health problems, whereas men externalise it and become violent, aggressive and destructive. Clearly neither one is ideal so maybe, instead of seeing them as shameful things we should all acknowledge the anger and violence that is part of being human, and find healthy ways of dealing with them.
I’m sure we would all love to see world peace but is it ever likely? All the same things that make us angry and resentful on a small-scale once writ large pave the way for global mayhem. Feeling slighted, ignored, isolated, bullied, having my space encroached upon are all things that can reduce me to a seething, hostile freak. Imagine then, that on a large scale, with lots of other people feeling the same way and it’s easy to see how things get out of hand. If angry violence is our collective Achilles heel maybe wars and disharmony are always going to be inevitable.
Depressing as that thought may be, I’m still not ready to give up on us. The good part of people, for me, far outweighs the bad and, scary as the world so often seems, I for one am glad I’m on it.