‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.’
‘A Tale of Two Cities’ – Charles Dickens.
Never has this passage seemed quite so apt, nor Dickens quite so clairvoyant.
A great many of us are shocked and dismayed by the news today, just as we were over the vote to leave the EU in June. It feels wrong. It feels bewildering. It makes us wonder what the hell is going on with the world. And accepting the fact that this is what was voted for, and that if we live by the sword of democracy we must die by it, somehow only makes it feel worse to those of us who see these as choices of disconnection and alienation. It implies that over half of the population of the UK and the USA want that disconnection and alienation. And it’s so easy to get dragged down into the quicksand of feeling the world is going to hell in a handcart. Have we reached peak liberalism, peak community, peak evolution? Is this where we, as a race, plateau?
I spoke to a friend this morning whose kids are in a state of total anxiety about the news today – and that’s largely to do with the fear whipped up by the media, both social and otherwise. She asked me how on earth she could reassure them. Whilst I can offer no wisdom on the politics, I do have this…
The fact is that in 2016, we have fewer ways to die than ever before. Diseases which routinely killed huge numbers of people are now eradicated or curable. Women rarely die in childbirth in the western world, most of us have enough to eat, and we take for granted a way of life which would have been unimaginably luxurious just 100 years ago. Indeed, 100 years ago the average life expectancy in the UK was just 54. Now, it is 81. That’s astonishing.
The internet gives us access to the most incredible cornucopia of knowledge, but it also gives us access to knowing things which we simply wouldn’t have known before. It makes it easier for those who would spread hate, to do so. It also means that we can see and hear, first hand, when would-be world leaders say vile, unforgiveable things. We probably would never have known, before. But this is where we find ourselves. In the best of times, the worst of times.
So what do we do? What do we tell our kids to do?
We love a little more fiercely – and we tell our kids to do the same.
We take every opportunity to be a little kinder (and there are opportunities everywhere – a simple smile can make us all feel less alone) – and we tell our kids to do the same.
We stand up for those who might feel unable to stand up for themselves – and we tell our kids to do the same.
We call out bigotry, hate, bullying and unfairness – and we tell our kids to do the same.
We don’t, we absolutely don’t, hate back.
We love, because there are only two core emotions: love, and fear.
We recognise that whenever someone behaves badly, it is almost always because they are living in fear. Maybe that fear is simply of losing their own nefarious status, and maybe they would never even perceive that, much less admit to it, but fear it is.
And we recognise fear in ourselves, and we acknowledge it. But we tell our fear that, even though we know it’s there, it will not be running the show.
Because that job – that is the job of love.