Recently I invited friends around the world to ask their friends and neighbors a simple question: “What would the world be like if it were what you really want, not what you’ve learned to settle for or what you think is possible? What do you really want the world to be like for your children and grandchildren?”
As the responses came in, I kept track of the nationality, age, gender, and economic status of each respondent. Finally I stopped doing that, because there were no differences. Nearly all of us highly varied people want the same kind of world, though our ways of describing that world can be different and colorful — and, I discovered, wonderful.
By far the most common desire was for peace.
“I want tolerance and harmony among nations and ethnic groups.”
“Everyone is trained from babyhood in nonviolent communication. Negotiators are dispatched immediately to any region where violence threatens. There is no place where a dictator can arise without notice and intervention.”
“No abuse of children, no hunger, no mean words.”
“Police and military exist to protect, not to punish.”
“The world is de-militarized; nuclear weapons are eliminated. Funds are freed up for food, health care, education, family planning, environmental protection, and social security for all.”
Next in frequency came visions of all people developing their talents and abilities. This social ideal was never described as either uniform or strongly individualistic; people wanted both diversity and community.
“Each person, male or female, is nurtured and loved from birth. All people are given the tools and resources to develop in ways that reflect their own strengths and interests.”
“Everyone has the means to move up through hard work and fulfill his or her destiny.”
“I don’t see a world of isolated communities, but one of connected communities, with mutual appreciation for diversity.”
The environment came up again and again, in specifics — clean air, solar energy — and in generalities about how humans interact with nature.
“Respect for the environment is ingrained in everyone. The world is green with forests and teeming with wildlife.”
“Though I have never seen them myself, I hope my children will see a quetzal or a sea turtle laying its eggs in the sand of a distant beach.”
“All people are educated about their environment and how to keep it sustainable, and they are able to do so, because they have reached a basic level of well-being.”
“Massive steps have been taken to stabilize the climate. New chemicals and gene-spliced organisms are tested for 100 years before being used widely.”
You would imagine, if you pay attention to today’s media, that people want a world of wealth and luxury. But they said just the opposite.
“We will have another way to measure accomplishment than how much money people have.”
“People have gone beyond the need for things.”
“We will love the things we have and will take care of them. More of us will make things with our hands. More of us will dig in the dirt. We will have less, but more of what we have will be beautiful.”
Nor did the respondents express a desire to watch better or more glamorous entertainers. They wanted to be singers and dancers and creators themselves.
“More of us will remember the words to songs and the steps to local dances.”
“An interesting, creative world, where people work, dream, create, write, study, read, star-gaze, make music and films. The idiot box will cease to be a major factor in people’s lives.”
“Everyone is considered an artist.”
Surprising statements kept coming up, statements I would never have thought of putting into my own vision, but when I heard them expressed, from India or Ecuador or China or wherever, I thought, “Yes, I want that too!”
“I don’t want there to be a need for groups like Amnesty International.”
“Nine-to-five till 65 no longer applies; people work, but they also have plenty of time for celebration and families.”
“There is no such thing as the standard of living in one community being maintained at the expense of another community.”
“People are re-becoming natives of their own places.”
“I want a world that is building up rather than breaking down.”
Some of my colleagues who collected these responses were unmoved by them. “Of course everyone wants peace,” they said. “We already knew that. And everyone wants clean air. So what? How does that help us get clean air?”
I just can’t feel that way. The more the visions came in — and there are hundreds of others I couldn’t fit into this space — the more touched I was by them. It seems to me a powerful message, worth repeating and repeating, that people want peace, simplicity, beauty, nature, respect, the ability to contribute and create. These things are much cheaper and easier to achieve than war, luxury, ugliness, waste, hate, oppression, manipulation.
Some day, when everyone understands that nearly all of us truly want the same kind of world, it will take surprisingly little time or effort to have it.
Get Grist in your inbox