Have you given up but you don’t know it?
Recently I was at a neighborhood get-together when I overheard this remark: “well, of course we’re all doomed…” which was met with affirming nods and lip pursing. “Yes,” someone else sighed, “we’re – what is it—the frogs in boiling water.” More nods of agreement and grimaces of concern, before the conversation moved on to sports, a planned trip, and work concerns.
It was over so fast that I almost didn’t remark it. I found myself thinking about the conversation later, and I felt mystified. Here we were, on a beautiful warm spring evening, with an abundance of food and good company. Why would someone feel the need to disperse such clouds of the apocalypse into our midst, and even more concerning, why would others rush to affirm such prophecy?
- Overwhelm of worries caused by a steady diet of media and social-media terrible stories.
- Guilt over having a “good life”—in this example case, being able to enjoy a backyard party—and a need to do penance for it.
- A subconscious the desire to demonstrate one’s smarts, since criticism is often perceived as authoritative and intelligent.
- The dramatic pull of tragic romanticism
When did we give up?
When did we give up?
Whatever the reason or source, it’s disturbing. Not because doom isn’t a possibility, but because it is not a certainty, as is the undertext of such conversations.
This distinction is very important, because our words have remarkable power to create the future and influence others. Unfortunately, expressions of gloom have become commonplace in our culture. While the pandemic has no doubt increased today’s disposition to melancholia, this trend started well before COVID’s scourge. But it hasn’t always been like this–it’s hard to imagine my parents’ generation seriously holding forth along such lines. When did we give up?
It’s all too easy and popular to critique previous generations, but this deflection tactic doesn’t really improve anyone’s lot and instead ignores that a sense of optimism and strength was an engine that enable ancestors to progress. Those with real doubts about that progress, we need to have a different conversation about what life was like 200, even 100 years ago.
While it may be a bonding experience to share pessimism with others, in reality such conversations have disempowering consequences. Hopelessness did not land a human being on the moon, conquer smallpox, or ban DDT; it won’t solve climate change either.
We are not frogs in warming water. The only way humanity is going to rise to the challenge of climate, or anything else for that matter, is to start with a belief that we have the capacity to do so.