Finding a silver lining while scrolling through today’s news items is like trying to find virtue in a crack house. At best, if you squint through the noxious fog, you might occasionally see a touch of humanity. It is no wonder, then, that news readership during the holiday season plummets across the board. Woe betide the messenger who brings up any depressing headlines within the four sacred walls of a house that’s carving up turkey.
In the spirit of preserving this end of year truce between the news cycle and the incomprehensible man-made horrors that animate it, I’d like to dedicate this morning to finding that thin silver thread. To do so, however, I must reiterate some pressing matters to drive the point home, so bear with me.
It is also true that while the planet burns, the global geopolitical stage is fraught with tension, jumpy trigger-fingers, and a demoralising amount of insensitivity towards the suffering of entire populations across the globe.
It is also equally true that Malta, the country that most of my readers and I call home, is in the throes of a deep political crisis that has been in the making for decades.
However, these are singular, isolated aspects of a much wider, extremely complex reality. They’re significant, existential threats, but they are nonetheless part of a larger puzzle.
To understand the sheer vastness of this larger puzzle, it helps if we look at what has been described as ‘the longer now‘. In a nutshell, to truly figure out where we stand as a civilisation in the present, we must understand what we’ve been doing over the last few hundred years. It is a theoretical understanding of the world which encourages its recipient to observe human progress as a continuous timeline rather than as a segmented narrative that is made up of the past, the present, and the future.
If we look at our longer now, we can see that the overwhelming majority of humanity has managed to resist becoming extinguished in spite of a very small but powerful minority that has done its utmost to hold back all progress except for the kind that improved the profitability of their endeavours.
In spite of the millions of tonnes of bombs that were dropped across the face of the earth, the ongoing destruction of countless of acres of forests, the constant pollution of our atmosphere, our water, and our soil, the soaring body count from entirely preventable humanitarian disasters – in spite of all that we’ve borne witness to, we’re still here. We’re still around and we’re still able to play whatever role fits us best in the chaotic upheaval that has marked the last few decades.
What I mean by ‘the best some of us could do’ is that we have not yet gotten to the point of what it would look like if we were instead looking at ‘the best all of us could do’.
Think about it – how many brilliant people have we lost along the way, simply because they did not have the opportunity to learn?
How many phenomenal singers did not get to bask in the glory of the world stage? How many visionary architects never got a chance to inspire us with their dazzling work? How many captivating actors will never know the warm glow of the silver screen? How many inspiring revolutionaries were cut down before their prime? How many gifted astronauts will never get to gaze upon the whole, entire earth?
Depressed yet? Flip that on its head for a second.
In spite of the innumerable losses that blot mankind’s timeline, think about all the incredible souls who did grace us with the full force of their presence. Think about all the beautiful things humanity has made, the lofty goals we’ve accomplished, the dizzying heights we’ve reached as a species.
All of this is the best that some of us could do – it is like watching a seasoned track runner trying to sprint with their shoelaces all knotted up and their hands tied behind their backs. All we’ve managed to achieve is a fraction of what we could achieve if that same overwhelming majority of humanity that has managed to resist becoming permanently extinguished liberated itself from the oppression of that same minority that has held back progress for so long. The greatest possible motivation one could have in a time of global crises is to remember what we could achieve if we untie ourselves and really start to remember what it’s like to run.
Much of this motivation and hope lies solely within the hands of the current generation of young adults across the globe who feel more, who know more, and who are willing to learn more far more than their parents ever were. I don’t believe anyone who says that today’s young people don’t care about anything and that we’re all just superficial, self-obsessed creatures with the attention span of a tweaked out ferret. I think most people who say so tend to be totally disconnected from how this generation behaves and thinks.
We are our own hope, and in order to draw strength from that hope, we must believe in our potential, in our ability to continue the process of altering the world and shaping it into a more equitable dimension for all of us. The number of people who will be able to contribute to human progress increases exponentially with every small step forward.
Every tiny positive contribution, however small it may be when compared to larger negative trends, means that more people will be in a position to come forward and contribute in ways they couldn’t before.
There is no singularly overwhelming thing that you must do. All you need to do is find which one of these countless tiny positive contributions is going to bear your name on it, and follow through with it.