I’ve been reading a book that re-affirms lots of things I’ve believed and done and written about through the years. The book, HUMANKIND:A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman, is a carefully researched confirmation of the goodness of humanKIND. It debunks much of what we think we know about the uncaring ways people treat one another, and makes a solid claim that we should redefine what we mean by “realistic.” We can change the cynical view that “realistically” people are programmed for war, bullying, greed, and selfishness, to the well-documented truth that most people would rather be kind, generous, and peaceful. In example after example, he demonstrates how research bears out this more hopeful point of view.
In one example, he gives evidence that in war, most soldiers actually prefer not to kill, and will often purposely misfire so as to spare the life of the “enemy” they have been trained to kill. This is exactly the scenario I imagined in CROSSING STONES, when Ollie comes home from World War I alive, but missing part of one arm, and realizes that the German soldier he faced in the trenches decided to “disarm” him, while sparing his life.
Bregnan also discusses schools, and this took me back to my years as a teacher at Kilquhanity House, a school in Scotland, where students and staff together determined how the school would be run. And to my years teaching at a one-teacher school in Alaska where school and community–parents, teacher, and students–worked together for the well-being of all.
With some 50 pages of notes, it is hard to argue (and why would I want to try?), with his closing suggestion: “So be realistic. Do good in broad daylight, and don’t be ashamed of your generosity. You may be dismissed as gullible and naive at first. But remember, what’s naive today may be common sense tomorrow.”