A couple of years ago, I published a post about the horror movie marathon in which we’re all taking part (here). I hadn’t thought about that post for ages, until I read an article this week entitled ‘How to stay happy when the sky is falling in‘.
The Guardian article (here) explained that life is still really good, no matter how bad things seem. Like my post, it cautioned readers to not simply ignore negative news reports and hope for the best. That’s called denial.
We should instead embrace the despair and take some form of action that we find meaningful and/or enjoyable – on any scale. Volunteer, make a donation, join a campaign.(1)
The author went on to stress the importance of also looking after our own wellbeing by taking time out to sleep, exercise, meditate, spend time in nature and socialise.
So, how are you coping with nearby and distant acts of violence and ongoing political and economic uncertainty?
Use your own words and images
Everyone needs to find a way to express deep, and sometimes dark, sentiments. Some people choose words, video, a meme, music, or art. Others prefer to talk to a friend, sign an online petition, or share someone else’s work via social media. Each of these efforts is valid and can help others, as well as ourselves.
What counts most is that we don’t stick our heads in the sand or bottle up all of this emotion inside.
If we each take responsibility for raising awareness and supporting change within the many tribes to which we belong, we can collectively reach every person in every corner of the planet. There are lots of us, so not everyone has to worry about every single issue.
Vast reserves of untapped power lie in our ability to communicate with and influence people across multiple tribes based on shared interests. This is how ideas spread at ground level – as we’re more likely to listen to our peers than politicians, movie stars, and commentators.
And Seth Godin tells us not to worry if we upset people [within reason] because this is the first step in changing the status quo.(2)
As Seth says, it’s your turn.(3)
Remember that it’s not all bad
The recent spate of disturbing media stories is not a new phenomenon. Our brain is hardwired to pay more attention to bad news. This is good. It serves to warn us about possible danger. It is also ripe for exploitation by media conglomerations and the 24/7 news cycle.
Improved travel, education, communication, trade and many other factors mean that we now have a much broader worldview. We are connected directly and indirectly with a huge number of people, most of whom we will never meet or talk to face-to-face.
Jeremy Rifkin says that our empathic reach has evolved over time and now extends well beyond blood ties to include the entire human race.(4)
As a result, we relate to the suffering experienced by far more people than when our ‘world’ was limited by geography – be it our cave, valley, nation state, or continent.
This can be both overwhelming and terrifying. It is scarier than any dystopian plot that you could dream up – because it’s real. But it’s also exciting and potentially empowering.
Empathic distress enables us to recognise and solve global problems, like climate change, that may once have been outside our (less) collective capability. Just look at what we achieved with the ozone layer via the Montreal Protocol, if you need a concrete example.
Unfortunately, it will take time for our universal state of human consciousness to catch up as we’re still operating with outdated structures and processes and imperfect knowledge.
When people feel threatened or helpless, they often react with anger. This is one stage on from denial. Their resistance comes from sensing that there’s a problem and that something needs to be done about it.
Think before you act
After a TV presenter said that she wanted a stop to Muslim migration to Australia, another presenter, Waleed Aly, called on Aussies to show “radical generosity in the face of [others’] hostility” (here).
Aly says we need to recognise that everyone (including TV presenters) is scared and that people deal with fear in different ways. He implores us to choose a constructive response, instead of adding to the destruction.(5)
So what do I think?
Respect other people’s feelings
We need to be able to talk things through honestly and openly. Sometimes this means not being politically correct. Informed debate paves the way towards achieving better outcomes and lasting change.
If you’re a public figure, you may need to work through your feelings off air and be prepared to defend whatever you say ‘on the record’. (Note: Social media has turned us all into public figures.)
We need to tolerate different points of view and ensure that people feel safe sharing how they feel. This does not mean that we have to agree with everyone all of the time.
We shouldn’t limit our conversations to like-minded people who endorse our current view of the world. We have a responsibility to seek out opposing opinions and actively engage with people who can challenge and test the validity of our reactions and possible solutions.
Most importantly, we need to avoid the temptation to unjustly blame individuals or groups who are themselves struggling to deal with what is going on in the world.
Now, what do you think?
- ‘How to stay happy when the sky is falling in‘ by Oliver Burkeman. Published at The Guardian Online on 2 July 2016
- Seth Godin says that tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. Check out his TED talk – here
- Seth’s book ‘It’s your turn’ is designed to share and encourages us to start conversations and do things that matter. Check it out – here.
- For more on Rifkin’s Empathic Civilisation, check out this 10 minute animation – here. Will the next step in our evolution be to extend this further to include other species in the biosphere or will we revert back to religions and nation states?
- #SendForgivenessViral Screened on The Project 19 July 2016
- Lots of furious people protesting © Tribalism via Dreamstime.com
- Cover of Seth’s book featuring suffragette Annie Kenney
- Black swan meme – Pip Marks