Gongol.com Archives: October 2021
At the close of a transaction in a store or a restaurant, Americans are accustomed to a courtesy farewell -- something along the lines of "have a nice day". Sometimes it's a trademark phrase, like Chick-fil-A's "My pleasure". While it may be perfunctory, it's still usually nice to hear -- in the way that, for the most part, commerce makes us courteous to other people. ■ From time to time, the alert consumer hears a variation, like "Have a wonderful day." We often use "wonderful" to express a particularly sunny sentiment, but perhaps we ought to take it more often to its roots. ■ "Wonderful" has an obvious etymology: It literally means to be full of wonder. The word has softened a great deal in ordinary use, and "wonderful" now is generally used merely as a synonym for "really good". Still a nice way to greet someone, but the word is underachieving. ■ That underachievement ("semantic bleaching", in the words of Merriam-Webster) is a shame, because life in the 21st Century is filled to the brim with subjects of wonder. Commercial airline flights virtually never crash anymore. Cars can drive themselves. Phones can translate speech into foreign languages in real time. ■ High technology isn't the only source of wonder. The world has leapt from 75% electrification to 90% in just 20 years. Extreme poverty is close to being eradicated, as is polio. The cost to produce renewable energy is collapsing and more of it is being produced than ever. ■ Social wonders continue, too: Women have achieved educational parity with men in the American workforce. Even in a year of extreme social and personal stresses, the notable murder spike in 2020 not only looks like an aberration, even the spike produced a rate almost half of what it was a quarter-century ago. Meaningful majorities in the United States and several other countries approve of increasing diversity and gender equality. ■ And nature would still be full of wonder, even without human help. Marine biodiversity has shown itself remarkably resilient when humans ease the pressure we place on habitats. There have been four dwarf planets discovered just within our own Solar System (in addition to Pluto). And scientists are still struggling to measure the unfathomable size of the Universe. ■ To consider these facts with appropriate wonder is not to excuse or ignore the many ways in which further progress is desirable on all of these fronts and more. But just as practicing gratitude is a psychological technique that yields lots of good results, practicing wonder is a worthwhile way to maintain perspective in a world where things often go wrong from day to day. It may be hard to have a wonder-filled day every day, but reserving time and mental space for small deposits of wonder is good for us.