In answer to our title question, Bruce Kelley, Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest says no way! Reader’s Digest has resumed its search, also conducted last year, for the Nicest Places in America. Last year they solicited nominations from readers and received 300. The list was winnowed down to 10 finalists, and Gatlin, TN was the final winner.

Kelley also notes other trends in society that push back from the dark mood engendered by the political world. USA Today has a Humankind section that highlights positive stories submitted by readers. The New York Times has a section called “The Week in Good News.” Some commercials on TV regularly appear that sell a variety of everyday products and services, but fly in the face of hate messages by featuring interracial couples, or convey other themes of inclusion. Student groups at some colleges and universities around the country run RAK days, “Random Acts of Kindness,” which encourage students, faculty, and staff to do just that with people they don’t know. NBC Nightly News always ends with a feel-good story of people helping other people. (No doubt you know of other examples worthy of sharing in a comment at the end of this blog.)

All these things have in common the theme of the importance of doing things that bring you satisfaction. The trends listed illustrate independence, autonomy, optimism, and disengaging from a dark side of humanity that stresses insults, disparagement, bullying, and intimidation. The trends show how easy it can be to resist the mudslinging and take the high road.

Digging a little deeper, the trends noted also show that when you feel lost, angry, frustrated, and without values or moral compass, you have options beyond simply falling under the spell of the hate mongers. There is no single human imperative wired into your genes. You do not need to join a cult and subjugate yourself to the leader because you feel inadequate to find your own way through life. You do not need to look for scapegoats to blame for personal shortcomings, and on whom to displace your anger and frustration. And you should not choose those options because spewing hatred or surrendering your autonomy to others will likely fail. These lifestyles compromise self-acceptance, feeling satisfied and productive, and enjoying a spiritual bond with humanity. When you fall victim to these impulses you will suffer because as you sit along the roadside criticizing, insulting, and pouring out blame on others for your travails, society will continue to evolve and leave you behind.

Psychologists know that reaching beyond yourself and acting within a circle of actions that you can control, brings personal contentment and inspiration to continue, not because “I feel happy,” but because “I feel a part of humanity, something bigger than myself.” Such service in a spirit of treating others as you would like them to treat you, will foster good coping with everyday life. Is this not why some choose to build homes for Habitat for Humanity, or volunteer to help victims of natural disasters, instead of wallowing in cult-like dependency or displacing all they dislike about themselves on others?

So here’s a thought for all of us. Don’t give in to the vitriol, distrust, abuse, profanity, insults, ego-centricity, and condescension; don’t give this dark side validity by emotionally and impulsively lashing back. Of course, stand up for your beliefs and strive to make them consistent with the evidence and with logical, critical thinking. But also vow to fight indecency with decency. You will be coping effectively, you will feel more satisfied and productive, and you will be energized to reach out to your fellow humans in need.

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