On the last day of the year, the cusp between past and future, I turn to Charles Dickens to make sense of a world that seems filled with hope and progress even as it seems to be falling apart. By many indices, the world is a far better place than ever before. Millions have escaped poverty; life expectancy has increased markedly; war, discrimination and violent crime are at historic lows. On the other hand, climate change, resource depletion, widening wealth gaps, exploding populations, insecure nuclear arsenals, seething inner cities, global terror all portend disaster.
So which is it? It is both, as it has always been. The conflicting scenarios aren't just matters of opinion. They are matters of fact: the world and its human inhabitants are all these things at once. It isn’t easy to hold onto such contradictory realities, and in our efforts to make sense of the world and our lives, we reject views that differ from our own. This is how we build communities of people we trust. Yet, as we separate ourselves into groups of like minds and familiar lives, we give up something important: the ability, even the desire, to truly understand those who are different. Our ideas are the best ideas, our facts the real facts, our religion the only path to salvation.
The spring of hope blooms only when we listen to each other. For how can I convince you of the value of my ideas, if I will not listen to yours?