Headmaster’s Notebook — Good News

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life the idea of sitting down with the newspaper became really enticing.  I was a pretty normal kid (or so I thought) which means I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the world when I was growing up.  And then suddenly that changed.  During my years in New York, I would read the Times on the way to work in the morning and the Post on the way home… mostly for the sports.

In Boston it was the Globe, and then the Chronicle in Houston.  When we arrived at Cate, the News Press was a vibrant and compelling paper.  I would often read it before the L.A. Times.  Now we don’t even subscribe.  Even newspapers change apparently.

In fact, my mornings now involve a computer screen rather than newsprint.  Delivery of any paper in Carpinteria is increasingly difficult, so after much hand-wringing and lonely mornings without a newspaper, we have opted for online subscriptions.  So I am back to the New York Times.

My priorities have changed, though, and I find myself increasingly looking for good news, which strangely is hard to find in print media.  I imagine some might take issue with such an interest or accuse me of burying my head in the sand.  And maybe that’s fair.  But I’m really just looking for proportionality.  I know the world isn’t perfect.  I just want to balance the scales a little, perhaps hear about virtue as well as vice.

I was thinking those very thoughts this morning as I surveyed yet another depressing front page of the Times when I came across a Frank Bruni editorial about a new book called Blueprint. Ironically, it’s written by a Yale professor, Nicholas A. Christakis, whose fifteen minutes of fame (at least to this point) surrounded his attempt in 2015 to mollify a group of students upset at a memo his wife had written suggesting that students should police themselves when it came to Halloween costumes.

The meeting with the students, who believed the memo was racially insensitive, did not go well, and Professor Christakis ultimately withdrew quietly amidst a hail of epithets, unfriendly accusations and cell phone video captures.

And yet, Blueprint is constructed on the premise of inherent human goodness.  It is a refreshing take on the evolution of human communities and on the manner in which we have fortified our collective virtue.  It is not naïve, and neither is Dr. Christakis, so the book does not shy away from conflict or division.  But it affirms what Dr. Christakis identifies as a powerful and instinctive effort to work through disagreement and to build connectivity.  Especially given the current news cycle, Blueprint seems a bit of welcome good news.

Dr. Christakis may not be right, of course, about human nature.  We have to consider that possibility.  But just the assertion, given the onslaught of news about every manner of misbehavior or manipulation or cruelty, reminds us that there is another side to things: that the public evidence of our failings is, indeed, offset by a host of private expressions and gestures offered toward the common good.  The fact that we don’t always hear those fulfilling and affirming tales doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.  Maybe we just take them for granted, since human nature surely is good.

For my part, I am happy to hear from Dr. Christakis and compelled by his book.  And I plan to look more closely, whether I am reading the paper or simply traveling through life, for confirmation of his thesis.  I’m convinced the good is out there, everywhere and every day.