Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the planet and its people are going to H-E-double-hockey-sticks in a handbasket and things have never been so awful. Prevailing sentiment these days is as pessimistic as an underfed babysitter sweeping up after a clutch of toddlers or, more to the point, as dim and dark and depressive as a teenager sequestered in a bedroom like a medieval monk. So where does that leave student-hood; wither our studies now that the end times are nigh?
Actually, when Western Europeans realized that the year 1000 A.D. was approaching they went into full Mayan Calendar and Y2K mode – expecting themselves to be thrust onto the fiery doorstep of Armageddon, things went south, intellectually and emotionally, for a little while. And then it passed. And this too, no matter how you count the years of misery or index the public policy calamities, shall pass as well. The 20s will end and enter the history books; they might even be remembered for heralding a sunrise of all sorts of human rejuvenation. Of course, that can only happen if we actually want the bad times to pass. Here the rubber hits the road, fossil fuels or no. As students, this is a familiar scene: if we dread studying and abhor essays we’ll probably not have a successful time as distance students. When we decide to embrace the academic challenge, bumps and falls and all, then good things happen.
Some of us, like festering pimples that just need a proverbial ethanol wipe (Oxycute them! was the TV commercial slogan) may remember clean sweep of reality in terms of good and evil, decline and dismay. This rings true in any epoch—especially because there are always real evils and awfuls and nasties running amok. But behind every extreme sensibility or misguided opinion (backed up, as always, with liberal doses of facts seasoned to taste) there’s philosophy lurking in Hallowe’en camouflage.
And speaking of Hallow’s Eve, I once had a friend whose outfit for the big day consisted of numerous plastic leaves and twigs, such that he could duck into any cedar shrub or bushy hedgerow and be out of sight—until, that is, he chose to jump out and scare the p’diddle out of a properly-aged passerby (usually female, the better to make them swoon). After encouraging him to not be too scary or nasty in his discursive exclamations I realized then, as maybe we all need to now, that behind his desire to shock and awe was a sense of needing to make a big splash, with sentiments as well as words. So in our times we might look at our emotional response to current events and wonder what it is we really are unconsciously seeking to make not of the world but of ourselves.
Viktor Frankl, who survived literal Austhwitzean conditions (rather than lockdowns) applied his counselling skills to his fellow victims of war (literal wars, not wars of words about wars far away that many of us somehow make our own like a lost puppy evermore labelled a rescue dog), came up with the refrigerator magnet quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (online). No one denies that we all have a lot to respond to, most of it unpleasant to say the least. Yet that in no wise changes the fact that each incident of participation as consumers of mass media is itself a choice. See, while we know that today’s dog and spouse cohabitants no longer roll up their daily newspaper to apply a gentle disciplinary tap on their loved ones schnozz, we also may have forgotten that the news is, typically, only going to last as long as the paper it’s printed on. Digital reality has an uncanny eternity to it, or so it seems.
In that sense it’s easy to forget to put the news in its place as well, sad and anguishing that it is. Not in a callous, devil may care and it’s not my children being beheaded kind of way, but in an officious and pragmatic way. In the end a better world depends on better thinking leading to wiser action.
Frankl, V. ‘Quotes’. Retrieved from https://www.azquotes.com/author/5121-Viktor_E_Frankl