Yeats wrote his famous poem expressing apocalyptic dread in response to the First World War that raged one hundred years ago. Such dread is a common human response to horrific tragedy: our minds easily tell the story that things in general are getting worse, the world is darkening. But is such a story in any way justified?
Yesterday morning I sat with a group of students and sang heartfelt mantras through the tears that came in waves, sending blessings to all those affected by the Orlando tragedy, the deadliest hate crime in American history. Though I feel the grief of this incident fully, I also feel the need to put things in perspective; the perspective of truth.
There are 7.3 billion people alive today, and that means that more of everything is happening: more acts of violence than ever before, and more acts of love than ever before. More desperate people in great pain, and more awake people with great compassion. In our time, the world is far too complex to form any meaningful generalization about it, other than the observation that more of everything is happening. But unique to our time, we can answer a specific question: is violence getting worse or better? The numbers speak for themselves: in the United States, famous for its lack of gun control, violent crime has been steadily declining for decades, and is now the lowest it's been since 1972, and probably the lowest it's ever been (since due to institutional racism and hushing up of domestic violence, many violent crimes were not reported fifty years ago). To be exact, 0.8% of the US population committed a violent crime (of any kind) in 1992, while 0.4% did so in 2014. So by that measure, things are certainly getting better (in the sense of safer). And look at those numbers: less than half of 1% of the population commits a violent crime in a year, and that includes muggings and drunken fist-fights nationwide (if the police are called; otherwise it's not reported).
And what about standard of living in the U.S. and worldwide? Is it getting worse or better? We can answer that too: on average, substantially better every year. A respected economic scholar wrote at the beginning of this century: “By many measures, a revolution in the human condition is sweeping the world. Most people today are better fed, clothed, and housed than their predecessors two centuries ago. They are healthier, live longer, and are better educated.” (Easterlin, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2000) And the average citizen of a developed nation now enjoys a material standard of living “that would have made the greatest king of two hundred years ago turn green with envy.” (John Nye, 2008)
And what about climate change? Surely we're screwed on that front? Al Gore, who knows what he's talking about, now thinks we can “beat” climate change and easily prevent a runaway greenhouse effect: see his TED talk The Case for Optimism on Climate Change.
When we believe negative thoughts that are unjustified, we are drained of our prāna (life-force). When we cultivate a positive perspective that is justified, we have more energy with which to make a contribution. For concrete ways you can take action and make a difference, see the postscript below.
Now, the above is all very reassuring information, but it doesn't bring back the people brutally gunned down in Orlando, innocently celebrating on a night out, despised for their sexual preference by a man consumed with fear and hatred. How can we make sense of an event like this? How can we keep believing that there is deeper meaning in life? How can we forgive? I give the answers to these questions, according to the Tantrik philosophy I study, love, and practice, in the 28-minute audio clip below (from the audiobook of Tantra Illuminated). We can't make sense out of this kind of suffering in a soundbite. It takes some deep contemplation. So if you need support, if you're disheartened and hurting, if you need some understanding and want to find your way to forgiveness and trust, please listen sit down and listen. And tell me if it helped.