I may be one of the least nostalgic people in the world. I’ve never posted a Facebook picture of me in polyester shorts for Throwback Thursdays. I happily pitched my high school and college yearbooks in the recycling bin during a recent move. In my closet, there are two giant tubs of documentation on my political career that I’m only waiting for the seven-year public records statute to expire on so I can dump those, too.
The present has always been what is most interesting to me; the future a close second. But increasingly, the future has consumed more of my focus. With the unprecedented combination of environmental and economic crises that our way of life has provoked, I spend a good deal of time thinking about how to take care of myself, my family, neighbors, and community, in a rapidly shifting world.
I’ve downsized and decelerated quite a bit in response. I’ve dropped out of the make-big-banks-richer game by purchasing a small home with cash. I’m learning new homemaking and repair skills so I’m confident I can make or fix many items I need. I’m studying my environment, learning more about the plants and water and animals, so I know what is available should we require medicine or food that the big production systems can’t provide.
In short, I’m preparing for the End of the World.
Don’t get me wrong: I am essentially an optimist, if only in the sense that, once I’ve done all I can to deal with a threatening situation, I can only laugh and hope for the best. I won’t spend my days fretting about what I can’t change, but I think we still need to openly acknowledge the crises our world faces.
In the midst of what feels like accelerating climate chaos, I’ve turned to the work of a writer and teacher who, back in the ‘80s, addressed another quietly encompassing existential threat: nuclear armageddon. Joanna Macy has written books and run workshops to help people around the world deal with this apocalyptic terror. She has found that the most healing action we can take when faced with such a vast danger is to name our fears, speak them to others, and take comfort and hope from the knowledge that our neighbors share them.
But we often don’t speak these fears, choosing instead to pretend everything is OK. In her incredible early book, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, Macy confronts head-on the reasons we don’t talk about our terrors. And, boy, do we have our reasons: Fear of feeling the pain; fear of appearing morbid; fear of appearing too emotional; fear of causing distress in others; fear of feeling guilt for our part in the world’s course; fear of appearing unpatriotic; fear of feeling powerless; and on and on and on.
Macy’s decades of work exploring these feelings with people have shown her that when we acknowledge our fears and the pain we feel for the state of world, we begin to connect with others in ways that give us hope and inspire creative action.
We need that hope and that creative action, but first we have to acknowledge the fear and pain to each other. So, I’m going to leverage the power of social media and propose a new campaign — kind of like #tbt — called “End of the World Fridays” #eotwf.
Instead of a fuzzy photo from your 1st Communion, how about posting something that acknowledges what’s happening today — the existential threats of climate change, peak energy, economic collapse, extinction, pollution, etc. — and your response to it?
If you feel hesitant about just putting your truth out there, consider Macy’s short list of the messages we send to children when we don’t talk about our worries for the future:
Silence conveys fatalism: It says “our collective future is ‘not our business,’ that it lies in the hands of politicians and generals and experts who know best.”
Silence conveys indifference: Macy recounts speaking with a group of 5th graders who reported that their teachers and parents never talk about the nuclear threat or environmental dangers. “‘You see,’” they said to Macy, “‘grownups don’t care.” Macy says, “Adult silence on these issues not only appears as indifference, but as a lack of caring for the children themselves faced with a frightening future.”
Silence reinforces repression: “Difficulty in communicating in these areas teaches that certain feelings are taboo — feelings like grief, fear, anger at leaders, and compassion for those who suffer now and will suffer in the future.”
Silence breeds cynicism and anger: “Young people begin to wonder whether feelings of anguish over destruction or injustice even exist in grownups. If they suspect that they do, they feel contempt for our hypocrisy in pretending that everything is just fine.”
The kids are counting on us to own up to the reality we’ve created. Let’s speak and spark change: #eotwf