Written by Dr. Lynda, Founder of Ever Widening Circles
Why do so many of us know the names of mass murderers and many of Hitler’s monstrous generals, but so few know the names of the people who hid Anne Frank’s family?
Think about that for a moment.
How did we get here? More importantly, why are we here, when so much good is happening?
Yes, I believe a powerful Conspiracy of Goodness TM is well underway around the world and almost no one knows about it.
Now, I realize the phrase Conspiracy of Goodness TM can sound a bit light-weight, but it comes from a very heavy-weight story that we were amazed to learn about recently. The sentiments could not be more timely.
Not many people know that during World War II, the community of Le Chambon, France saved 3,500 Jews from the Nazis. Without any formal organization and at great risk to their own lives, the villagers managed to hide thousands of strangers (many of them orphaned children) for several years. In fact, there were countless rescuers like this all over Europe during the war.
Decades later, in 1987, a Rabbi was giving a talk about that chapter in history and recounts:
“Once, when I was speaking of the ‘conspiracy of evil’ in WWII: a Dutch rescuer asked me why I never spoke of the ‘conspiracy of goodness’. The rescuer went on to add, ‘Do you think I could have hid Jewish families in my home without the active cooperation of the mailman, milkman, and the neighbors? For every one person saved, there were seven who rescued. There was a conspiracy of goodness.’” 1
When I heard those three words — Conspiracy of Goodness TM — everything we had discovered in the last 5 years with Ever Widening Circles made sense.
I realized that while my team and I have been single-mindedly curating the web for insight and innovation, our articles thus far have all pointed to a similar conspiracy of goodness TM happening right under our noses. There are countless thought leaders, all around the world whose ingenuity, courage and relentless perseverance are helping to rescue our shared futures but unfortunately, too few people know about them.
The problem is not the lack of goodness in our world, it is our lack of awareness about all that progress.
There are innovators out there saving the rainforests using old cell phones, making skateboarding a cornerstone of progress in Afghanistan, and discovering our human history using satellites to do unimaginable archeology. There are thought leaders doing the seemingly impossible: growing ears from apples, teaching the blind to “see” with their tongues, and figuring out how a family can put a whole year’s garbage in one mason jar. Not to mention all of the wonders of nature that no one knows about!
Countless people and projects are making the world a better place. Yet sometimes I catch the news or a glimpse of the acrimony in politics or on social media — where all the focus on what is wrong with the world and others — and it feels like we are standing in a shower of gold, with only a pitchfork.
So why aren’t we hearing more about all the boundless progress and wonder in the world?
“Why should our children hear only curses of our predators, and not the blessing of the rescuers?”
—Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis
From our vantage point, that question points to what should be our greatest priority right now: changing the negative narrative about our times. The notion that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, an attitude of future fatalism all too prevalent today, is taking a toll. It is changing our business decisions and lowering our expectations for our leaders and institutions. It is upending our global priorities, crippling our parenting, and decimating the aspirations of generations.
In both the negative news cycle and the acrimony in social media, we appear to be stuck in the mindset of “cursing our predators”. Because of that, we are completely forgetting to celebrate “the blessings of our rescuers.”
Those innovators I mentioned and tens of thousands more, they are rescuing our future. They are following their very best impulses while pulling us along. But there is a lot of drag out there.
We did not evolve through the last 100,000 years on a steady diet of fear, hopelessness, and anger.
Human beings thrive on curiosity, challenge, and cooperation. We are at our very best when situations call for courage, compassion, creativity, and collaboration. And we persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Continuing to overcome in bleak places because of our ability to see beauty, humor, and wonder in the world around us, no matter the blight.
Perhaps it’s time to remember all that and begin a conscious effort to follow our strengths.
I sense there is a wave of all that coming. I used to hear a lot more “downward spiral” conversations. But now, I’m hearing people taking an understated, personal stand against the current malevolent wind. They say they have decided to just tune out the negativity and double down on the good things they know they can influence.
It may be that more and more are choosing to join the rescuers.
When I dug into researching the story of Le Chambon, 2 I read that the daughter of one of these kind villagers, Andre Trocme, said, “It was really a gut reaction, and not intellectual at all. The challenge was individual – you heard a knock, opened the door and had to ask yourself, ‘Am I going to take this person in or not?” 3
I suspect that many of us are at that “gut reaction” stage when it comes to deciding how to react to the divisiveness of our times. We are hearing the knock at the door. Now we have to decide whether to slam it shut and stand in fear, or open that door and act with love for the world.
That’s why we all need to know so much more about today’s many thought leaders. The people who are doing their best to make the world a better place, and every wonder in the world around us. It is our nature to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to make a difference, to matter. There are countless ordinary people doing what they can to move things in a new, positive direction.
Contrary to the negative dialogue about our times, ingenuity and nobility of spirit are both alive and well.
Every thought leader we’ve written about has a wonderful group of early adopters. In order to bring their stories of progress and insight to the forefront, it will take many more rescuers. Remember in the story of Le Chambon?
For every one person saved, there were 7 who rescued.
That same impulse is being followed when people willingly pay more to buy shoes or glasses from places like Tom’s or Warbly Parker because they know their purchase will support a person in need. That’s the same impulse we follow when we refuse a plastic bag or straw, and when we donate to a Patreon page.
We are at a point in human history where “goodness” is becoming the currency that will carry us forward. The evidence is all around us. There is a conspiracy of goodness TM underway. The world’s leading corporations are making social responsibility a huge part of their culture and branding. Now startups often begin “giving back” from day one. I know right now, it seems like our social currency is money and influence. But there is a “gratitude economy” gaining momentum and it needs to override our current “attention economy.”
We’re finally getting it right on many fronts. (Did you know we have saved the planet with a global collaboration about the hole in the Ozone layer!?) We’re learning from our mistakes, and we are less afraid.
Alone, we are unprepared, but our futures are so intertwined that we can aspire together.
The key is starting with the things we can agree upon. There is far more of that than we realize. There are some fundamental acts of goodness that transcend everything that divides us. We can all admire the wonder of discovery, ingenuity, good intention, creativity, generosity, and selflessness.
At what point do we turn our backs on the malevolent wind? And instead, open the door to the conspiracy of goodness? It’s well underway. It’s just a matter of welcoming it in.
The world’s too good for that now. We can move on if we work together.
- Schulweis, Harold M. “Conspiracy of Goodness: An Untold Story.” The Harold M. Shulweis Institute, 2016, hmsi.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/another-witness-the-conspiracy-of-godness.pdf. Accessed 15 Apr. 2019. ↩
- The best, fulsome account of the WWII Conspiracy of Goodness TM that I could find was aptly preserved by the Kupferberg Holocaust Center. In a 2017 exhibition titled Conspiracy of Goodness: How French Protestants RescuedThousands of Jews in WWII.
- Sassi, Janet. “A ‘Conspiracy of Goodness’ Saves 3,500 Lives.” Fordham Newsroom, 10 Nov. 2015, news.fordham.edu/politics-and-society/a-conspiracy-of-goodness-saves-3500-lives/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2019. ↩