Despair versus optimism

Recent world events have sent my mood swinging between despair and optimism. Who would’ve thought I’d now be looking back to the pandemic with nostalgia? Oh, for those halcyon days when all we had to worry about was a virus. And at least we discovered a vaccination to counter it. Unfortunately, world leaders can’t be Pfizered out of the present psychosis…

I fall into deep gloom thinking of the younger generation already scarred by the effects of lockdown and currently facing the reality of escalating conflict. My own teenager has just emerged from his Covid chrysalis, trialling his fragile butterfly wings. But how will they fare in the winds of war? Ukrainians his age are already taking up arms to defend democracy, not in an exam question but in a street battle. Yet maybe the youth of Europe will be the ones to save us? They are often less entrenched in old-fashioned, nationalistic values. Many have a more global perspective, looking outwards to the bigger picture.

Whilst I harbour little hope of peace being brokered by the power-hungry who rule through fear, I find comfort in the fact that ordinary people still retain their sanity and compassion. At the height of the Cold War, I spent five months studying in what was then the Soviet Union. I had no idea what to expect and was initially apprehensive. But I soon learnt that, beneath the politics, our so-called enemies were just like us. I now have friends both in Ukraine and Russia. Some are fleeing for their lives; others face prison if they protest. No one wins. But they still remember they were once family and that this is not a war of the people but a consequence of ruthless ambition, greed, and broken diplomacy.

As for our politicians, some seem more interested in photo-shoot opportunities than cease fires. For them, post Brexit seasonal fruit picking work appears to be a handy solution to the refugee crisis. Thank goodness then for those who open their arms to their neighbours and those who stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Sheffield, like many other cities in the UK, welcomes the displaced, and has rallied in their support. Local residents have already started collecting food and clothes to be sent over to aid the relief effort.

Watching the news, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by despair. This conflict is on our doorstep, so for now it’s to the forefront of our minds, overshadowing the many others taking place around the world. When bullies are in charge of the global schoolyard then playtime stops being fun, unless you’re part of the mobster’s gang. And there’s no sign so far of Supernanny being enlisted to give us all a time-out on the naughty step.

So, what can we as individuals do? For a start we can refuse to let the darkness engulf us and give in to hatred of ‘the other’. The Dalai Lama tell us that ‘Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.’ So, let’s try to be more tolerant of different viewpoints. After all, if Blades and Owls fans can coexist, then there’s hope for all of us. Being kinder to each other is important too. But what does that really mean? All emotions carry an energy that affects those around. If we’re constantly surrounded by bad news, our spirits sink. But if the adolescent in the family does the washing up unbidden, a friend sends an unexpected sweet text or a stranger holds the shop door open for us, it can turn our day around.

We can show our kindness in practical ways too, donating money or useful items to those in need. We can lobby our governments to fast-track green energy solutions and sustainable farming so that wars arising from access to natural resources and food no longer occur. And when it all becomes too overwhelming, we can hang on to the knowledge that laughter is a powerful weapon, ‘always looking on the bright side of life’ is a viable antidote to fear and that the light always prevails.

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