Ian Houston: Don’t believe the cynics, there are lots of good people out there

AMERICAN poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all.” In these challenging times, the soul of the world needs that tune of hope. Fortunately, there are signs that should leave us encouraged.

According to Forbes, the top 100 charities in America at the end of 2021 received an astounding $54.4 billion in support. That figure was up 10 percent from 2020. The rise in giving was historic. Yes, it shows there is need, but it also demonstrates a genuine desire of a large number of individuals to support those facing hardship. And while there is a flood of polling data pointing to division, there is a consciousness of care across the world.

Consider that 81% of U.S. adults donated money to a charitable organisation in 2021. The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) notes there are approximately 25,000 charities in Scotland which represent an annual income of £13.1 billion with 68% of those charities being run by volunteers. As in America, a high percentage of the population gives time and resources to charitable causes.

So often we hear or read the enticing thesis that the world is imploding, that the fault lines of fracture are widening, that a refrain of discord defines the international system. There is a litany of alarming facts that show clear challenges and struggles. Hardship, poverty, inequality, climate change, and conflict are real. We must certainly be transparent about these challenges, smart and aggressive about furthering solutions.

Yet, the steady flow of headlines and political speeches that exploit or forge division suffocate hope. Stories of unity, kindness, charity, and positive impact across global communities are marginalised. The public has been conditioned by some in media and certain political figures to crave that daily dish of negativity seasoned with cynicism. The casualty of these efforts has been to diminish an air of positivity which is the oxygen of hope.

Charities and volunteers across the world know that service to others not only aids a person or community, but bridges differences between those who serve. For example, the global response to the Afghanistan refugee situation was extraordinary. People of different perspectives, faiths, economic standing, and political views came together to render lifesaving support.

The American Red Cross alone distributed more than 2.1 million essential items – like blankets, nappies, medicine and toys – for evacuees from Afghanistan and others in need. A similar response was found in Scotland. People across the UK opened their homes and rendered immediate care.

Through the pandemic, we have witnessed remarkable acts of service and valour. We should always highlight recent stories like Sir Tom Moore. Colonel Moore was the British Second World War veteran who walked around his garden at 99 years old to raise money for the NHS. He raised £33m. The late Sir Tom represented and reflected the hearts of millions like him. Again, challenges are real, but it is in times of challenge that humanity shines bright.

The sheer depth of global organisations and positive impact is difficult to measure, but it is profound. The strength of service reflects a unity of common values and a global population driven by purpose.

If you hear one say the world is falling apart at the seams, consider that the world has weavers who each day are dedicated to using their talents to stitch lives back together, individuals and organisations who are embroidering comfort through acts of daily kindness.

You who are reading this may be one of those weavers. I draw encouragement knowing you are there, knowing you are sewing a world of inspiration, encouragement, warmth, and hope.

Ian Houston has spent his career in Washington, DC as an advocate for diplomacy, trade, global poverty alleviation, intercultural dialogue, and as a non-profit leader. He is a GlobalScot and serves as President of the Scottish Business Network in the US/Americas in Washington, DC. He is also on the board of the Robert Burns Ellisland Museum and Farm and is the author of “Under Candle Bright.” His views are his own.

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