I tucked my 13 year old daughter into bed, then she asked me if planet Earth - and humans - would survive much longer.
The question floored – and saddened me that she would feel such fear at that age. Then I thought about it and it made sense.
Information bombards her constantly. School, conversation with friends and family, the Internet, social media, newspapers and the 24-hour news cycle on TV battle for her attention with screamingly biased opinions on everything, propaganda, and hate-laced rhetoric about ten thousand things that will hurt, kill, maim, prematurely age, destroy or irrevocably damage her body and mind, or the environment, planet and future. It is hard for her – or anyone - to decode the truth when everyone is feeding her contradictory facts and figures then demanding she agree with their point of view.
Fear sells, but relentless fear-messaging often leads to irrational thought, anger, hate, public shaming, guilt-casting, defensiveness and political correctness run-amok. These negative outcomes move newspapers, get hits on social media platforms, bully people, suppress rational arguments, divide friends into camps and promote hatred, intolerance and anger.
Everyone seems to have a cause nowadays. This is good. Activism can be positive. Currently it is fashionable, even hip. Undoubtedly many people are genuinely devoted to their cause. Others deem it necessary to constantly let the world know through social media how compassionate and evolved they are. Still others feel compelled not only to support their causes, but to judge and publicly shame anyone who doesn’t. Is it passion, compassion and empathy that drives this compulsion? If so, why all the shaming and hatred?
I grew up in the Cold War era. Fear of nuclear war was real but tempered with the belief that what was broken in the world could be fixed, that things would get better. Growing up, the 24-hour news cycle did not exist. Popular media did not rush to find a story to pump out every second of every day. Because of this, we did not have an irrational fear that every food was poisonous, every consumer product was evil, every stranger was a psychopath, and everything we saw, touched tasted, heard, felt, or imagined, would kill us. Yet I don’t think we were oblivious to the dangers in our world, we just processed information ourselves and did not let the media – or social media – tell us how or what to think. And we weren’t so angry and full of despair.
I followed the political debates leading up to the Prime Ministerial election in Canada. I stayed out of them this time because I wanted to maintain a neutral point of view and hear all arguments with a clear head. I was disappointed to find the tone vitriolic, emotional, extremely sarcastic and contemptuous with endless irrational arguments presented by all sides of the political spectrum in the lead up. After the election there was no end of grotesque gloating and strutting on one hand and bitterness and resentment on the other. I was disappointed that the tactics used to convince voters to side with one party or another, overwhelmingly were fear, guilt and shaming. I was more disappointed that people accepted this as status quo.
I have always encouraged my daughter to be a critical thinker, to engage in debate, to form opinions based on research and careful thought, and to consider all sides of every argument, if possible. I have tried to coach her in cutting through propaganda, challenging conventional thought and seeking the truth – because the truth sometimes is elusive and requires great effort to find. She loves a good debate as do I and particularly love it when my kids debate me. This election run-up had a completely different vibe then previous ones. It was very caustic. I think that is unfortunate.
Fear, hostility and negativity won’t get us where we need to go. They lead to fatigue, then despair, then apathy and finally giving up. We can do better. If we work harder, smarter and more cooperatively, we can model the kind of behavior that will encourage our kids to be positive and proactive and tackle problems with grace, intellect, good intentions, and a commitment and a willingness to work together.
We should not give up.
Will the Earth survive? Yes. Will the human race survive? Yes, if we rethink how we do things and find innovative ways to overcome the obstacles we currently face. I told my daughter that thoughtful, young people such as herself will play a big part in our future by becoming the problem solvers, engineers, artists and visionaries that will lead the world into whatever new direction it needs to go. No pressure – well, maybe a little – but, as my father told me, “Don’t come with problems, come with solutions. And stop pointing fingers.”