With a birthday fast approaching, the time to contemplate my collected wisdom thus far might be ripe. However, instead of going through the catalogue of over-used pearls, I’d like to concentrate on one little gem in particular that only recently clicked with me.

The saying goes like this:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I used to think that only jaded pessimists who failed to acknowledge the efforts of others would trot this out in order to belittle them. Perhaps this is how it is intended some of the time, but now I recognise there is a much broader application of this wisdom, especially if a healthy dose of cynicism is added.

This worn, old adage can be applied to any and every aspect of life and will always ring true. It’s almost spooky. From the personal to the political, the social to the scientific, it always applies. Don’t believe me? Allow me to expound…

How many times in your own experience have you thought you were making a situation better only to learn that, in fact, you were making it worse? More likely than not, quite often, right? Sometimes our instincts are just plain wrong and we end up putting more fuel on the fire. Our well-meaning nature might drudge up stuff that was better left buried, or our well-intentioned advice could cause a whole new debacle to present itself. Sound familiar?

What about this scenario? Imagine any public, government-run service that has ever existed and then add „reform“ to it. Need more of an explaination than that? Let’s examine education. Public schools in most western countries are in a sorry state by all standards. With their roots in centuries-old educational doctrine, schools consistently fail to implement the latest findings to optimise learning. Instead, politicians propose band-aids to fix the problems. A little well-meant reform here, a dash of legislation there, some budget changes and presto! It never works, though, because fixing the holes in the roof of the factory isn’t going to help sustain the out-dated means of production under that roof.

It’s sad, but true. Good intentions are oftentimes misguided and that’s how we end up on the road to hell. Sometimes the road is narrow and winding and other times we find ourselves on the super-highway to Dante’s Inferno.

Global politics would currently find itself on the latter. The Doomsday Clock, for example, was recently updated for 2018 to show it is currently two minutes to midnight, the most precarious position it has been in for decades. Trump, trade wars, WMDs, and mainstream media are factors that keep us on course for disaster.

The hopey-changey promise of the internet, which has been a force for much good in the world, has also been commandeered to serve as a platform for distributing misinformation, causing confusion and manipulating our minds. The good intentions that paved the way for the early web to open communication and the free exchange of information across the world have taken a dark turn and made us into meta-data-producing, social media-consuming slaves and addicts.

Had enough yet? I could go on. It seems the older I get, the more perceptive I become (or maybe I’m just increasingly cynical). Identifying how good ideas that should benefit humanity are constantly being abused and misappropriated in order to inflict damage of one kind or another has evolved into a sport for me. At the personal level, we never intend to cause harm with our well-meaningness (unless, of course, we are sociopaths). However, when I look at the how the world is run and the current state of affairs, I recognise that a lot of it is deliberate. I guess some folks enjoy being on the highway to hell. I would prefer to be on the path to enlightenment.