Founding and Managing Partner
The Arbinger Institute
A century ago, in response to a newspaper article that asked, “What is wrong with the world today?” the British journalist G.K. Chesterton purportedly wrote a letter to the editor which read, simply:
Whether or not Chesterton actually wrote such a letter, there is something very powerful in this response. It is so different in kind from the answers currently being broadcast and written regarding what is wrong with our world today. It is as if every response to the question today is a version of the following:
To Whom It May Concern:
Heads of state, congressional leaders, political candidates of all parties, community and law enforcement leaders, members of activist groups, operatives in terrorist networks, and pundits on all sides of the various political and public safety issues of our day all have this one thing in common: everyone blames someone else. “They are” is the substance of today’s collective letter to the editor.
But think about it. If everyone blames others for the problems we face, no one actually feels responsible for those problems. As a result, we are doomed to live with those problems forever. Unless, that is, we begin to change our mindsets and consider how we ourselves might be problems. And by “we,” here, I mean me.
As I’ve watched coverage of the recent string of violent and senseless domestic and international attacks, and as I’ve buried my head in my hands at the sophomoric political invectives hurled in every direction, I’ve found myself wondering, What is wrong with all these people? But then Chesterton’s words stop me short. Maybe I am—maybe I am what is wrong with the world today.
“But you didn’t run your vehicle over people,” you might exclaim in my defense. “You haven’t turned your gun on others; in fact, you don’t even own a gun. And you aren’t running for office while belittling all in your path. You aren’t the problem.”
I’d be tempted to accept your absolution and turn back to my comfortable, others-blaming ways. If I do, however, I will continue to help things go wrong in this world rather than to help things go right.
I am what is wrong with the world today. Truly. Too often I don’t really see and consider others; I see them as objects rather than as people. And that means I’m a problem—because others actually are people and not objects. To see them otherwise is to commit an act of violence against them.
This is true even if I don’t strike someone physically. Don’t be fooled; the sign of violence is not a hit but a hurt. My heart commits violence long before my hands.
People don’t like to be seen as mere things. They intuit the violence in it and resent and resist their objectification. Some of these people take up arms. Others of us, without taking up arms, take up blame. Either way, we participate in the dehumanization of the other that is at the heart of our society’s ills. We play our part in perpetuating the cycle of violence that is threatening our communities, countries, and cultures.
What is wrong with the world today?