Like most people with a fairly decent childhood, I was taught about making the world a better place. Fed on a steady diet of Disney films, fantasy books, and educational TV shows, I learned about kindness and empathy along with big words and basic arithmetic. I was constantly told that I can be whatever I want to be, and nobody discouraged me when I declared all of my desired career paths from author to astronaut.
All my life, I was led to believe that there was goodness in this world and that it was easy to find my place in it. But it’s much easier to get disappointed these days. We live in an era of dishonesty and cynicism, and it can be quite tough for those of us who are already breaking our preconceived notions about adulthood.
Every day we are so bombarded with bad (and fake) news that it doesn’t feel like humanity has progressed at all. Daily discourse is permeated with toxic ideologies better suited to centuries ago. People are struggling with the effects of financial crises and national debt. Politicians claim to stick up for the underdogs when in reality, they don’t believe in the rights of every citizen.
History is continually being forgotten and ignorance is reigning. War, in its varying forms, still exists. Despite being a planet perfectly suited for plant and animal life, Earth doesn’t really feel like the best place to live lately. As someone from a developing country, I deeply internalized such universal struggles.
Here in this beautiful yet problematic Southeast Asian archipelago, we are easily exposed to the injustices woven into the fabric of society. We as a people always knew our place. Growing up, I looked at first world countries as places of comfort where a lot of our countrymen escape to in hopes of a better life. I always knew that most of our politicians were corrupt and that creative careers were reserved for the rich, privileged, and showbiz-savvy (if not superbly talented).
In my country, the lavish bourgeois lifestyle is juxtaposed with extreme poverty. Well-connected moneybags can get away with murder while the poor and defenseless get killed on the streets. For mediocre and idealistic middle-class millennials like me, adhering to the flawed system is the safest way to get ahead.
I never felt at home anywhere, not even in my own homeland. Like every escapist in a media-saturated milieu, I dreamt about the places I longed to visit – most of them requiring a visa that costs an arm and a limb to acquire. At this point, I was ready to give in to a bleak future of living a life I didn’t believe in. But as I write this in a hospital lobby among people of all ages and socioeconomic classes, I saw slivers of kindness in small gestures and overheard conversations. I realized that people can be generally infuriating, but not entirely incapable of doing good.
Maybe all it takes is a profound film, book, song or piece of artwork to convince others that there are still some things that are right in a world of wrongs. Maybe we just need to be a little kinder to each other. Maybe the world just needs reminding that it can still be beautiful. Carl Sagan once called our beloved planet the pale blue dot, an infinitesimal speck in a vast and indifferent universe. All of humanity’s failures and achievements, condensed into one tiny part of whatever it is beyond us. In the end, all we have is each other. Maybe all those books, films, and shows we consumed as kids were right in teaching us to make the world a better place. In the grand scheme of things, hope just might be the one thing to save us all.