“Better here than Bangladesh” I sometimes tell myself and my wife, Tina Su Cooper, quadriplegic from the ravages of multiple sclerosis, and my 95-year-old mother, who lives with us and can barely walk. We could have the same problems we now have, if we lived this long, in that desperately poor country which can afford only minimal medical support and suffers from abject poverty, rampant infectious diseases, and devastating natural disasters.
Not to pick on poor Bangladesh [once known as “East Pakistan”], there are plenty of other hell-holes in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America. We are lucky we were not born there.
We could have been born, not in the twentieth century, but in earlier eras, where, once again, conditions were often so bad that all the positive thinking in the world would not likely produce a favorable outcome, though we would handle adversity better by being upbeat than by being negative. Thomas Hobbes, in his book Leviathan, characterized life in the state of nature, without successful governance, as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”…and “short” would seem to be the good part!
I think we have a moral duty to appreciate our good fortune, even if our situation falls far short of our original hopes. Who among us would willingly change places with these other unfortunates? Comparing ourselves against those even more fortunate than we are is a recipe for unhappiness. How much good fortune is enough? Imagine if you had your present problems and were stuck in a worse place at a worse time.
You might wish to be in the next century, while avoiding those preceding our own, but how sure are you that the future will not be worse, despite improved technology?
In Voltaire’s Candide, Dr. Pangloss is ridiculed for believing “This is the best of all possible worlds.” Believers in a benevolent God must accept this as true and recognize that what they see as the world’s shortcomings are “necessary,” being the products of man’s free will or the unfolding of a plan beyond our understanding, perhaps to be offset by a heavenly future. We are trying to understand an infinite universe using our finite minds. Non-believers will be, as Voltaire was, critical of Dr. Pangloss, who, after terrible experiences traveling all over the world, ended up deciding to “tend his own garden” with his younger companion, Candide.
There are rewards in handling successfully our own difficulties and in helping those we care about to handle theirs. “Be here now.” “Bloom where you are planted.” “Brighten the corner where you are.” Even “love the one you are with.” The message is much the same: appreciate what you’ve got, rather than what you have not.