I had the thought that so many of the problems that we seem to have are due to the fact we don’t place a lot of importance on long term projects that would greatly benefit society; we pay lip service to the idea, but from one moment to the next our more immediate desires and obligations are prioritised. Having to pay the bills to keep the electricity is regarded as a here and now concern, as opposed to climate change events that, to most people, are sufficiently distant, incremental or intangible to warrant intervention.
My first impulse, like most of us, is to do the easy thing and let frustrations simmer to a boil when faced with the reality that people in power pull their strings and make demands of everyone else; an older generation is in command of a ship they seem desperate to sink, leaving us bitter and resentful as they hanker for, and try their best to revive a past that should have died long ago. However, I also realise — being almost 40 now — that when people start having families there is the necessity to conserve time and energy whenever and wherever possible, and be maximally efficient for the vast amounts being used. Generally, as we age, fewer of us have the luxury to pontificate and procrastinate, and feel the nagging dagger of guilt for time lost. We become more decisive, whether due to real or perceived threats to that most valuable of commodities. We tend to get more concrete about what we like and what we value. We become more cynical, don’t suffer fools, and we’re not as willing to wait around for some future time to arrive because too many situations have an overwhelming stench of familiarity, leaving an unshakeable confidence in just how predictable and boring they’ll turn out to be.
So it’s not only weather patterns and big tech ‘customer service’ that happens so incrementally as to go unnoticed, but so too, the ways in which we transition from one important life phase to the next. We’re seemingly not self-aware enough to realise, (despite the inescapable evidence of a world that turns on the advertising of things and products which are appealing to younger people) when a younger generation, with new ideas, trends, and fashions has emerged and is taking hold. With some rationale, and little respect to insights into mental health, there are those of us who either don’t want to believe our youth is gone, or get so wound up in the daily grind, and submitting to unrelenting social and cultural pressures that the inevitable distinction between yourself and young people feels sudden and unsettling.
I’m reminded that the upward development of a nation is considered by many to be defined as an improvement in standards of living and life expectancy for each successive generation, but sadly for the first time in many decades, we’ve come to a point where that’s ceased to be the case. So with all the problems that exist for young people to deal with today, I wonder how much influence and guilt my generation deserves to hold in light of this fact, and likewise, how much understanding or judgement should be levelled to my generation’s elders for their misgivings? To what extent and direction do we apportion blame? Is it necessary in order to reset and re-educate?
We need to find some way to have a collective agreement on the values that define our communities and societies, because without any respect for agreed-upon guardrails for how large groups of humans can co-exist civilly, freely, and happily, we’ll be at the mercy of whatever chaotic interactions take place whenever an individual’s or generation’s desires are prioritised above all else, believing their dictates and mandates are best for the whole. There’s already enough evidence to show we do succumb to this failure to organise, while failing to see the slow, constant state of change to which biology and nature has us all condemned.
Our biases will always be present. I, for example, was allowed to be at school learning about the beauty of The Great Barrier Reef, and the issue of climate change was not yet on the table. It would have been the perfect time to be discussing it. My generation feels that we’re suffering under the weight of lessons we weren’t taught by elders who should’ve known, but it would be lazy not to recognise that they were sold their own lies and omissions on issues like war, tobacco, sexual health, psychedelics etc. (some issues have endured under propaganda campaigns far more successfully than others) and still suffer their traumas and suspicions about who or what to believe. It also draws my generation to the uneasy conclusion that we’re the elders who were supposed to know better, and pave a path that could lead the newer brigade away from existential threats, but we’ll go on saying we didn’t know any better because no one told us about these things. It seems like a fairly pertinent sentiment given how often we occasion the mantra that we need to learn from history, at a moment in history that makes clear our success in repeating the same mistakes.
So I wonder, to whichever extent we’re dragging our heels and not getting things done, is it because the youth of today have inherited an anger and bitterness, and ultimately an apathy for the lack of hope that exists for their future? Is it that some of them have had it too easy, or that technology in the form of gaming and social media provide the veil of ease through which a simmering anger and discontent bubble beneath? Humans need certain challenges, and maybe — to the extent that every generation realises that we have big ones coming up — we don’t do what’s right because we feel so disillusioned, disempowered, and voiceless, because these days corruption amounts to rendering us fully aware of our ineffectiveness. Or is it because there are interesting and strange and powerful innovations happening in technology, that we assume in some ways it’s ok for us not to be able to, for example, immediately reverse the effects of climate change, because we have faith that certain technologies will be created and allow us to find safe haven or create solutions to those big problems soon enough?
Whatever ideas we propose in our attempts to remedy long-term concerns, it appears the evidence for putting aside our biases and finding common ground should be stark enough to humble us into positive action. Never has it been more timely to agree that — while we can’t hope to agree on everything — we have to come together on matters that threaten future generations. Is it not an impulse we more naturally gravitate towards when things in life are going well, perhaps because caring for others is its own reward? And this in turn fosters a sense of gratitude, it ushers the hand that guides us to plant those seeds of trees whose shade we’ll never enjoy.
Yes, we have forces working against us, but we also evolved alongside each other by sharing and supporting, and in that spirit we find it easier to ward against the negligence and cruelty that lead to continued pain and suffering. I’m reminded of a quote, that nobody ever got post traumatic stress from being kind to others. So, if we can’t know the best way to fix life’s big problems, maybe we can start be realising it’s better done by finding a consensus with our inner circle, and expanding from there. That by the end of our personal stories we’ll discover that we were much more alike than different, and there’s no bad time to respect that future generations we’ll never meet will breath easier and appreciatively when coming to the same realisation.
What do you think is the most pressing issue for humanity at this time, and what’s the first step to fixing it? How much do global problems affect your mood? How do those worries compare or connect with the biggest problems you face in your day to day life? Is your happiness affected by the direction your country is headed in, and the amount of opportunities that exist? Is it more important to focus on local problems, or global ones? I look forward to hearing your thoughts?