I know this blog isn’t used often anymore, but I do want to take a minute to share something that I found to be very meaningful. It arrived in my inbox on some unsuspecting Monday morning in the form of a fortnightly newsletter from Future Crunch, and I felt compelled to put it somewhere were others might read it.
I hope it isn’t read as an attempt to brush off or devalue in any way the critical conversations and calls to action that those in the struggle are issuing; fear is real, and I hurt knowing that so many people with whom I associate have to live through that feeling every day simply because they wear, on their person or in their hearts, an identity that is violently under attack. Rather, for me these words were a good reminder of global and historical perspective and also refreshing proof that, if we do the work we must do to uncover and defend truths and interconnectedness, it makes a difference in what our collective future will be like. I have emphasized some parts of their message that were particularly thought-provoking for me.
(As an aside, consider subscribing to their newsletter. I honestly don’t remember how or why I ended up on their listserv, but reading their words and following their links was a very refreshing thing for my spirit this week.)
Enjoy – and do your part to spread a little light, love, and life to someone else this week.
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Pessimism is in vogue. We know the names of children whose bodies lie crumpled on distant shores, and whose dusty, bloodied faces gaze blankly at us from the ruins of once proud cities. Our glittering, wired eyes stare at our screens and tell us that the world is on fire. Our forests are disappearing, our oceans are being pillaged and we’ve just experienced the hottest month ever recorded. Our politicians squabble like children over the remains of a 20th century economy that no longer exists. Political and religious extremism raise their ugly heads (as they always have done) and old men clutch bitterly to wealth and power (as they always have done). Our new, digitally enhanced awareness creates a sense of heightened velocity and a feeling that we’re fast approaching some kind of catastrophe.
And yet, the human race has never had it so good. Life expectancy has risen by more in the past fifty years than in the previous millennium. When the Berlin Wall fell, two-fifths of humanity lived in extreme poverty. Now it’s one-eighth. Global illiteracy has dropped from one-half to one-sixth in the same span of time. Terrible diseases that have killed us for centuries are disappearing. We are making the halting, difficult transition to a clean economy with greater speed than anyone ever anticipated. With a few tragic exceptions, a child born almost anywhere today can expect to grow up healthier, wealthier and smarter than at any other time in history. They will have universal online access to all of human knowledge. Following three decades of feverish connecting, integrating and tangling together, we have built a precious, fragile new world. In so many ways, we are starting to flourish.
This little fortnightly list is our attempt to tell stories about that flourishing, and hack the bad news habits that so many of us have gotten into. It isn’t always easy; our ancestors evolved to pay attention to scary stuff, and we’re descended from the ones who were best at it. Humans are also really good at empathy. When we see someone expressing an emotion such as sorrow or disgust it activates our own brain regions as though we’re feeling that emotion ourselves. Emotion is its own language, one that has a considerable effect. And in that language fear is the strongest word; the emotion we pick up easiest from other people, because it comes from the inner lizard brain, as opposed to other emotions like joy and sadness which arise from the higher monkey brain. That’s why we’re all so afraid these days – not because we’re especially gullible, but because fear is especially contagious. In a world where 2 billion people are using social media, when a negative emotion is caught and conveyed above a certain threshold it’s capable of infecting the entire planet.
That’s why we think the scariest epidemic in the world today isn’t Zika, or AIDS or the latest superflu. It’s fearmongering. Fear paralyses us from taking action and confuses us. It makes us believe that global terrorism is getting worse, when it’s actually getting better. It’s why politicians call press conferences about crime, yet never talk about mental health, which kills far more people. When we’re scared we stop demanding a direct say in our economic, political, cultural and societal choices. We retreat inwards, protecting our own tribes at the expense of others. That creates spaces for demagogues and populists. Fear prevents us from speaking up, from sharing ideas and challenging centralized authority. It stops us from believing that problems can be solved from the bottom up by the same people who have the greatest stake in solving those problems.
Fear prevents us from imagining better futures. The immense challenges we are facing should give us all a sense of urgency and a wild permission to reimagine the world. When we dream of better worlds, we have responsibilities, but we’re under no obligation to find places in them for systems and ways of life that themselves have no future and that were never built for continuity in the first place.