On days like these it’s hard to be an optimist.
Police murdering black people. Snipers murdering police. Rising anti-semitism. Nativism in Europe. Predictions of global war. And those are just the stories I’ve read since 7am this morning.
What’s most shocking is how quickly the tides seem to have turned. Just a few weeks ago no one thought it possible that the UK could vote to leave Europe. Last summer we were still joking about Donald Trump. Police kept murdering innocent people of color (and LGBT people), but at least the national consensus seemed to be moving in the right direction thanks to the tireless work of Black Lives Matter.
In just a few months, it feels as though the false floor of the world has been torn away. And what lies beneath is far more terrifying than any of my childhood fears about the dark corners of the basement. For the first time that I can remember, people I know and love and respect are themselves turning inwards in response to these evils. Drawing lines around themselves and their communities. Using the language of fear, anger and resentment themselves in response. Most frightful of all, lights seem to be turning off all around me. Friends I once counted on to join me in optimism now respond with muted expectations for our future.
This morning as I sat reading on the couch, surrounded by a vibrant city, on a world teeming with life of all kinds, in a galaxy that we increasingly believe must be full of living beings stranger than we can fathom, part of a universe that we are finding expresses itself in unexpected and beautiful ways, I felt alone.
Then I got a phone call.
About how to use Facebook.
It doesn’t matter.
It was a person trying to solve a small problem to make their part of the world just a tiny bit better so they could move on to the next problem. And I realized something important: even though to me — to a lot of us — it feels like the world is spinning out of control, that there’s nothing we can do, that we’re alone in history and in cause, we’re not. We’re just young. These moments are unique to us, but not to the history of the world. And we’re still here, because that’s the way the world works. Problems crop up. We work to fix them. We move on to the next problems.
With that in mind, here are a few hopefully encouraging thoughts for my currently despondent friends:
Every generation faces its challenging times, and the world goes on. I think it is genuinely difficult to take the long view as a young person, especially now when news is so fast and so accessible. Whenever I feel despondent about the present, I try really hard to remember that the world and the country has survived many periods of crisis and change before. To name just a few: the War of 1812, the Civil War, the labor movement, World War One, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, World War Two, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the Reagan recessions, the gay rights movement, and so on. All of those events featured periods of violence, instability and fear that echoed around the world. All of them lasted for years. I’m not saying what we’re dealing with now isn’t awful and isn’t deserving of hard work to fix. I’m just saying that what we’re experiencing today isn’t exceptional, and we’re not alone. Ask your parents and grandparents what those last few were like and how they survived. I bet you’ll notice lots of similarities to how you feel today, which makes sense because…
The country didn’t come unhinged overnight, even though it feels like it. First of all, if you ask people of color, they’ll tell you that this is the America they’ve always lived in, it’s just more visible to privileged people now. Credit the tireless work of Black Lives Matter, amplified by the same technology that spreads news quickly, for that. And they’re right. What we’re seeing now is not new. It’s years of systemic, subtle racism our predecessors never dealt with coming back to the foreground for the first time in our lives (but hardly the first time in any previous generation’s life). It’s being amplified by economic uncertainty, which causes fear and instability, and is also the result of years of bad economic policy from previous generations. Ditto the gradual loosening of gun laws around the country. So listen, bad shit is still happening, but at least it’s not nihilistic. There are root causes and there are things we can do.
We can fix these problems if we start now. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But solutions to almost all of our problems exist, and our generation — the most tolerant and socially conscious ever — is just about ready to take over control of the world. Lots of smart people are already working on solving these problems. If we can turn all the despondency I’m seeing from my friends into the desire to fight for what we need (once again, BLM leads the way here), we can win. I have no idea how to do that, but I bet there are people who do. Find them. Listen to them. Learn from them. And then fight. We can make this world better. Previous generations did (not perfectly, but hey, neither will we), and so will we. Maybe better than ever. But only if we use these moments to fuel us instead of letting them extinguish us.
Exported from Medium on October 22, 2020.