The world is on fire right now. Anger, resentment, violence, and hatred–these are the themes pervading our news cycles. Every day we seem to be drifting towards self-destruction. Every day the 21st Century looks more and more like the last.
The hope that we had somehow learned the lessons of history and entered into a new era of peace now seems naïve. The optimism for a more peaceful century many of us had at the turn of the millennium feels deader with every news story.
It’s hard to summarize all of the events that have taken place in the past sixteen years into one global theme, but the dominant feeling of our zeitgeist seems to be existential anxiety.
The question we’re often confronted with is what do we do about all of this? The scope and reach of problems seems to be way beyond our control. Many grow tired of feeling paralyzed with anxiety and tune out of the news altogether. The madness just seems too great.
I don’t blame people for this response. As important as it is to be informed about the world, obsessing about how bad things are isn’t helpful. But neither is total disengagement. Every person needs to strike the right balance for themselves, but I think the question we should be focusing on is How do we bring more peace into the world?
Because of the complexity of modern societies, we are constantly looking to political and business leaders for technocratic policy solutions to our problems. We’re so wowed by what we’ve been able to accomplished technologically in the 20th Century that it’s easy to be seduced into thinking every problem can be fixed with the magical wands of engineering, science, and public policy.
The problem with this way of thinking is that not every problem is technical in nature. Not every problem can be solved with a legislative solution. Some issues are endemic to a culture itself and need to be addressed at that level too.
Changing culture is tough. But it’s not impossible. And the good news is that it is something that everyone can participate in. This is important because modern man all too often feels stripped of its agency. We are overwhelmed by a world we don’t understand, disconnected from the decision making process that takes place in the closed boardrooms of corporations and government bureaucracies in far off places all over the world.
How do we help bring more peace into the world?
There is no shortage of ways we can do it, big and small.
We can do it by bringing more kindness into the institutional practices we have access to in our day to day lives–the project and team meetings we have at work.
We can do it by challenging unfair, dishonest, and unethical business practices and laws.
We can do it by advocating for someone who cannot advocate for themselves.
We can do it through the way we communicate to our colleagues and families.
We can do it by being more thoughtful about what and how we communicate on social media.
We can do it by sharing more positive news.
We can do it through the way we support our friends.
We can do it by being better neighbors.
We can do it by not over-reacting to petty sleights.
We can do it by loving completely without complete understanding.
We can do it by being more generous with our forgiveness.
Culture is Us
The chaos we see in the world today is a byproduct of our collective mental illness. Ideas exist in a political market that we make up. Politicians aren’t just pandering when they stoke fear–they’re also answering the demand they’re perceiving in their constituents. Demagogues exploit our fears and insecurities because we allow them to. We unwittingly submit to their will when we surrender our reason.
Many people are stuck in the inertia of their culture’s status quo or are simply too paralyzed by their learned helplessness to think through what’s happening around them. Most people desperately want to see the world become more peaceful, but lack the confidence or willingness to risk initiating change themselves.The problem isn’t that people are not open to change; some people simply need to see that change is possible by seeing it in other people first.
It may seem obvious, but it’s helpful to remind ourselves that cultures aren’t abstracted things that exist independently of ourselves. A culture is simply the shared beliefs and habits of a group of people. We are culture. You, me, your colleagues, friends, and family all make up our culture. We are therefore all responsible for what our culture is and what it will become.
The good news is that it doesn’t take that many people to change the world. It takes a small group of people who are thoughtful and committed and understand what’s at stake.
This work has already begun. In fact it’s been in progress for centuries. Reform, decay, and renewal are themes that span the lifeline of civilization. We have models for how to move forward.
We can continue this work by addressing the toxic marketplace of ideas that surround our immediate lives. We can start by changing the way we think and how we treat other people on the smallest scale.
All of these things are within every person’s reach. And by doing more of this work, you will not only benefit others, but you’ll cultivate more happiness in your own life and maybe a little less cynicism too. The stand we choose to take in the world matters. It’s the first and most important step to making the world a more humane place.