In some ways, the world is getting kinder

As I was writing this essay, I got a call from a blind man named Henry. He needed help finding the front door of his apartment, and then help making his way through the somewhat maze-like halls of his building, around several corners, through several sets of doors, down a ramp, and into the lobby where the stairs were.

He walked holding his phone, and I guided him based on what I could see on the live video. At one point, it was too dark for me to see where he was going, so with his permission, I tapped my screen to remotely turn on his phone’s flashlight, lighting his way. When he got to the lobby, he thanked me, we wished each other a good day, and we hung up. Simple as that.

The call came through an app called ‘Be My Eyes’, and it works wonderfully well. It connects blind and visually impaired people with randomly-chosen volunteers who can help them out in various ways. At last count, there are 431,970 blind people using the service, and nearly six million volunteers. Someone always answers.

If you want evidence that the world is getting meaner, you don’t have to look far. I won’t even supply examples, because I’m sure several sprang to mind. Entire careers and industries are dedicated to keeping supplies of human cruelty fresh and constant, and to making sure we all think about it all the time.

But there is also evidence that the world is getting kinder. The ‘Be My Eyes’ app is just one. Despite how it may feel some days, we’re not all engaged in some inexorable downward slide into Gehenna. There are countless happy warriors everywhere, waging tiny battles to retain their humanity day by day, and to find ways to be kind to each other.

Here are some I’ve noticed recently, when I decided to look:

Many libraries no longer charge late fees. I’m sure they were partially forced into this decision, because people were simply not returning books, and then never going to the library again; but the general impulse — “all is forgiven, just return to me” — is a wonderful one, very much in keeping with the Gospel. Good stuff.

Several video games now have what could be called “little buddy mode” — a setting or character designed for a younger, less competent companion player who tags along with a more skilled gamer. They can feel like they’re part of the action, but they aren’t at risk (or else they can regenerate endlessly), so it’s harmless fun for them to join in. (Super Mario’s Nabbit, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yarn Yoshi, and Mario 3D World are some examples of some variety of this feature.)

To be sure, this isn’t altruism. It’s a product made because the company thought it could sell something. But it’s a beguiling idea, and caters to a wholesome and friendly consumer need, rather than a cruel and low one, which is something you don’t see very often.

More and more parking lots have reserved parking spots not only for disabled customers, but for pregnant women and for parents with babies. One of the greatest baby gifts someone ever gave me was a reserved parking spot in the last month of my sciatica-ridden pregnancy, saving me a short but very painful walk to and from the school door five days a week. Again, partially consumer-driven, but kind and merciful all the same for the grateful woman who really needs that spot.

The proliferation of GoFundMe’s, meal trains, money pools, Amazon wish lists for strangers, and other easily-sharable means of supporting people in need. Yes, sometimes they are foolish, and sometimes they are scams, but very often they literally save lives, and people in crisis are rescued with their dignity intact. This is something that simply didn’t exist 15 years ago, and it’s very good that we have it. It just about redeems the internet, and it’s good that people with only a little money to donate are given the chance to join in on a good deed.

‘Buy nothing’ groups have also proliferated on the internet. This is a resurrection of a practice from another age, when people would “wear it ’til you wear it out; make it do or do without.” Now, pushing back against the tsunami of discarded consumer goods, there are myriad groups where people can list what they no longer want, and I have rarely seen anything go unclaimed.

The other day someone said she had several spaghetti sauce jars without lids, and I rolled my eyes, thinking no one would want her excess recycling. Within minutes, another woman happily claimed them, saying she was selling cut flowers at the farmer’s market and needed more jars for vases.

I have also seen people request furniture, clothing, and all manner of things for their families, and someone always something to share. People want to share; it was just the mechanism for doing it easily that was lacking.

Any time we need to fix something around the house, or make a car repair, or even make a costume or a party prop, we head to YouTube, and there is almost always a useful instructive video.

Sometimes they are slick, monetized videos that someone produced as a business, but very often, they are just little movies that people have made because they know how to do something, and they would like to help other people out. There is no money or fame involved; they’re simply being helpful. This is purely lovely.

Little free libraries, and little free food pantries, and other little free structures have been erected all over the landscape, just so people can share what they have with each other. These little free-standing miniature sheds started popping up a few years ago and people have not gotten tired of them yet. It’s easy to see why.

There’s no paperwork, no income requirements, no humiliating process where you have to display your poverty before some beneficent committee. If there’s something you want, you simply take it. If you have something to give, you simply leave it. Simple and kind.

The concerns of children are taken more seriously than they were even a generation ago. Some of this is legislated, with child labor laws and efforts to abolish statute of limitation laws regarding abuse; but some of it has just made its way into the social order.

You don’t have to “but abortion” me. I know that there is immense cruelty and hardheartedness toward unborn children at the same time. That doesn’t negate the good that is happening, and it’s truly good that adults today are much more likely to listen to a child who says they are being bullied, or who says they are feeling anxious or afraid or overwhelmed, or who says something bad is happening to them.

In general, we treat children more like full humans, and this is a very good thing.

There’s a real trend away from remarking on people’s appearances. I was skeptical at first, and thought that this trend was merely lip service that people would be trained to do so as to appear correct; but my younger kids seem truly acclimated to the idea that it simply isn’t normal or acceptable to judge someone based on how they look.

It will be fascinating to see how far this trend goes, and how it affects people’s actual behavior toward each other, but even if it only reaches so far, it’s been pleasant to see that it’s no longer socially acceptable, for example, for a man to dismiss a female colleague simply because she isn’t attractive to him. Guys still behave like this, of course, but at least in many quarters, there is now always pushback. When I was growing up, no one would have batted an eye. There really is change afoot.

It’s become more and more common for businesses and schools to offer free menstrual products in their bathrooms, along with other hygienic necessities like toilet paper and soap. Since about half the population menstruates, and these products can be prohibitively expensive, it’s wonderful to see more corporations acknowledging a responsibility to provide these goods so women and girls can show up and function at full capacity.

There is more and more integration of adaptive equipment in public places for people with disabilities. More playgrounds have adaptive swings and other play structures; more churches offer sensory-friendly services and more gyms and entertainment centers offer sensory-friendly evenings; more crosswalks have auditory aids; more museums have adaptive displays for the impaired; more supermarkets have adaptive carts.

These accommodations are not only great so people with disabilities and their families can live their lives, it’s good for the rest of the world to constantly recognize that people with disabilities are fully part of the community, and that their needs are different but just as legitimate as the needs of abled people.

And there is more. I’m sure you can think of examples, if you look. These things have a way of building on each other. If you see that the world is kind and kindness seems normal, then it’s easier to start contributing yourself.

What can you add to this list?


A version of this essay was originally published in The Catholic Weekly on October 5, 2022.

Photo by Greg Dunlap via Flickr (Creative Commons)

7 video games, reviewed by my kids

Hey, who wants to talk about SOMETHING ELSE?

How about vidya games? My kids play games on the Wii, PS2, and occasionally the iPad and PC. We have tons of the Lego Wii games, and they were all the rage at our house for a few years. These are cute, clever, and not too noisy or violent (people just turn back into separate pieces when they get killed). Have’t found a bad one yet.

Here are some of my kids’ other current favorite games. I asked them to give a quick description, plus their favorite and least favorite aspects of the game. Then I added my take, as someone who doesn’t especially like video games, who worries about bad influences on the kids, but who isn’t especially restrictive. We don’t have any particular interest in very violent, scary, or gross games like Resident Evil or Call of Duty. Bracketed comments are mine.


1. Õkami 

okami 2


17-year-old girl says:
It’s a Zelda-type action adventure, but everything looks like a Japanese sumi-e painting. You are Amaterasu, the sun goddess, incarnated as a white wolf, and you use celestial brush techniques to paint symbols. You draw symbols in the air to manipulate the world around you — like, you draw a swirly thing to summon a gust of wind. You can fill in gaps in bridges, trail fire from a torch to a pile of brushwood, stuff like that. The goal is to save Japan from evil spirits, which, you know. [I don’t actually know.]

Best part: The best part is that it’s a serious, hard-core adventure game that also rewards you for feeding animals and caring for plants. You collect praise points for helping to restore nature, or helping people, or just being nice, like feeding a kitten. That’s not the main point of the game, but I like that it’s this elaborate adventure, and you get points for being nice to kitties.

Worst part: I hate the sidekick. I want to kill him and I want him to shut up.

My take: Looks weird and gorgeous. I don’t mind having this one in the house at all.


2. Sly Cooper series for Playstation


sly cooper

11-year-old boy says:
It’s about a raccoon thief who beats people up and steals stuff, but he’s a good guy. Sort of. In the first one, he’s trying to steal back his family’s guide for how to be a sneaky thief.

Best thing about it: The graphics are great. The characters are very well thought out, and there is good voice acting, except for when they’re supposed to be surprised.

Something I don’t like: it’s kind of annoying that Sly always smiles, even when he falls off a cliff and dies.

My take: The voices are really obnoxious, and the few female characters strike me as unnecessarily sultry.  I would just as soon see these games go away, but both boys (the other one is 13) love these three game to pieces, so there must be something there. The fighting isn’t too graphic. It’s fairly flashy and the sound effects are kind of grating.


3. Just Dance 2


just dance 2

9-year-old girl says:
It’s a game where you pick a song to dance to, and you can earn points by dancing like they are dancing on the screen

Best thing about it: I’m not too good at games where you have to fix up a problem, and I’m pretty good at games where you just follow the moves of what is on the screen. It’s a good, easy game for all ages.

Something I don’t like: It doesn’t have Taylor Swift. Some of the dance moves areinapwo-pwo, and we have to skip some of the songs, like “Toxic,” “That’s Not My Name,” and a few others, because they’re sassy and weird and dumb, and sometimes the dances are just inappropriate.

My take: Silly, active fun, except for that one kid who discovered that you can get a perfect score while sitting in a chair and moving your wrist around. Great for an ice breaker at parties, because it gets you moving but everyone is looking at the screen, not at you. Most of the songs are just goofy; a few are too sexy (lyrics and dance moves), so we just skip those. (I actually prefer having the kids get used to the idea that you have to pick and choose and say “no” to some things and “yes” to others, rather than just flat-out forbidding anything that might be, well, inapwopwo, because eventually they’re going to have to tell themselves how to spend their time.)

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (link is for the WiiU version)

legend of zelda wind waker

15-year-old girl says:
It’s made for Gamecube, so if you’re using the Wii, you have to use a Gamecube controller instead of a Wii remote. You also need a memory stick for the Wii. There is also an HD version for the Wii U.

It’s an adventure game and a puzzle game, and you have to defeat puzzles and dungeons and bosses, to get different items.  The point of the game is to defeat Gannandorf, the evil bad guy, and save Hyrule and your sister, and make your grandma proud of you.

Best part: It’s an exciting game, but the graphics are absolutely adorable, and the characters are all really funny. I like the Snot Kid, and the way all the characters look.

Something I don’t like: It’s set in a sea, and it takes a while to get from island to island, and you get lost really easily.

My take: I honestly don’t get what the big deal is about all this Zelda stuff, but it doesn’t bother me. A few of the videos are quite pretty. The music isn’t too loud or annoying, and it’s not one of those awful frenetic games. Just a lot of running and hopping, as far as I can see.


5. Epic Mickey


epic mickey 1


15-year-old girl says:
It’s a sort of dark twist on forgotten old Disney cartoons, but in a cool way –  not a stupid emo hipster kind of thing. [You know. Stupid emo hipster.] You play as Mickey, and get sucked into a world called “Wasteland,” where all forgotten cartoon characters live, and you have to defeat the Mad Doctor and the Blot Creature. You have the power of ink and thinner so you can paint and erase things to your advantage.

Best part: It’s kind of dark and scary at times. It’s got this great morality thing, and sometimes you have a choice of helping a gremlin or getting money, and if you help, you get even more money, or a reward, and you also get the gremlin’s reward later in the game, so it’s got that going for it. It’s not a serious gamer game, but it’s still fun.

Don’t like: It encourages you to use paint more than thinner when defeating bosses, but it’s really difficult. It’s just frustrating.

 My take: She’s not kidding about dark twist! Some parts of this game scare the three-year-old. I hear a lot of frustration when they are playing this game, so it’s best for kids who are persistent. Graphics are super detailed and imaginative and have a lot of depth, and it’s fun for the kids to spot obscure cartoon characters.

6. Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb


indiana jones emperors tomb

14-year-old girl says:
It’s an action adventure game in the style of the Tomb Raider series, but it’s Indiana Jones. The goal is to get an artifact from the tomb of an emperor, but it’s really convoluted. (We have the PS2 and Windows versions. Apparently this game is “backwards compatible, which means that if you have a PS3 or 4, you can play this PS2 on it.)

What I like: Nice detailed graphics, and the combat is a lot of fun except for when you blow yourself right after Indy says, “Hope I don’t blow myself up.” It has good voice overs. You have to solve puzzles and beat up Nazis.

Don’t like: This is pretty much the only game I’ve played besides all the Lego games. I would make a setting for people who have never played video games before so it’s for them. [There is an easy mode. She may not be aware of this.]

My take: Meh, I’m not crazy about this one, but they’ve been playing it for years now, and no one has turned into a felon yet. My husband likes it.There is so, so much punching, but it’s not bloody or anything, and it seems like it takes a long time to beat all the levels, so that’s a plus. We have picked up a lot of family catch phrases from this game. The voice really does sound like Harrison Ford, and I get to wow the kids by putting my high school German to use (“The American! Kill him!”).

7. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

zelda twilight princess

17-year-old girl says:
It’s my all time favorite game. It’s my first ever Zelda game, and you always think the first Zelda game you play is the best one. But objectively, I firmly believe it is the best one in the series. The main plot is that you’re trying to rescue Hyrule from this evil, alternate dimension that is trying to turn everyone into ghosts. It’s a very Japanese game.

Best part: It creates such an elaborate world, you can really get lost with everything you can interact with. It has a great plot and great characters. There’s one scene where one of the characters is dying and you have to bring her to the castle, and it’s the most concerned I’ve ever felt about a character. You get really emotionally involved. Also, it’s just gorgeous and the game play is crazy. It really feels like you’re doing these things. It makes me feel cool. Link does things I could never do. He has all these crazy abilities. That sounds lame, but that’s what they’re trying to do: get you immersed in rhe game.

Don’t like: Uh, I thought I mentioned that this has no flaws whatsoever? Probably the best cel shaded game I’ve ever seen, kind of crazy gorgeous, and so creepy sometimes. It sets you up, introduces you to this world to make you feel secure, and then changes the world suddenly. It really throws you off your balance. It has this innocent fairy tale vibe, and then really strange, creepy things happen.It has some really dark elements to it. The creepiest thing is when it kind of changes the rules on you, and shows you things that don’t belong. Unsettling in the best way.

My take: Take it easy, weirdo.