Can you remember a time as crazy as this?
If you’re 60-something like me, you can flash back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Martin Luther King Jr. and brothers John and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, the Age of Aquarius, the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of Russian communism.
But none of that history felt as tribal and reckless as what’s unfolding now.
I also struggle to comprehend the First and Second World War eras, and summon up my relatives who fought and nursed in those awful times. But it’s all conjecture rather than experience.
Perhaps the most emotive historic moment I can conjure up is standing beside my grandfather Robinson, then in his mid-80s, as he snapped to attention in a grey suit at the Vancouver cenotaph at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1972. He was a survivor, blinded in his left eye at the carnage of Passchendaele. I still remember the tears running down his face as he struggled to cope with the annually ritualized recurrence of his personal memories of horror. When asked to describe how he did it, he replied, “By sticking it.”
So what about now?
Certainly we’re not at war, but I feel myself reacting to the Donald Trump-induced idiocies with growing levels of anxiety.
My friends’ experiences and their linked emotions to these same phenomena also provide a personal benchmark. I think they’re worthy of active contemplation.
The doctors, and particularly the psychiatrists I know well, report a growing volume of consulting room conversations about U.S. President Trump and his behaviours. When I last met with my physician and spoke of my concerns about Trump, he offered to prescribe something to help me deal with it. I declined. He smiled knowingly. “You’re not the only one who feels this way,” he offered.
My university professor pals, including climate scientists, anthropologists, economists, planners and lawyers, are as a class pretty bummed out on climate change (especially growing evidence of its speedier onset and severity), and increasing economic disruption. As a group, they retain their sense of duty to data, its collection, analysis and consequent prescriptions. But they’re not at all optimistic about our species’ ability to make the needed course corrections to avoid disaster.
My environmental activist buddies are predictably concerned. But as campaigners they largely retain their focus and try to deal with cynicism and the vagaries of politics with at least some modicum of humour. Many are amazing examples of stoicism in the face of what they have to deal with on a daily basis, in terms of reconciling what they know must be done with the reality of what can be done.
Certain business acquaintances have recently barked back with higher-volume anger when I muse aloud in board meetings about my thoughts on climate change. Recently, a board acquaintance of over a decade growled, “Bulls–t!” at me for saying that the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly supportive of anthropogenic climate change. His rebuttal advised me that the so-called scientific climate models were incredibly flawed, and the world in fact was not getting hotter over the last five years. I declined to respond.
My American friends, mostly from university and high school, are divided into two predictable tribal camps. I’m a welcome guest in one camp; the other has never been so completely distant from my world view, whether it’s the duty to welcome climate refugees instead of building walls, empathizing with the root causes of the #MeToo phenomenon, or defending the practice of free trade.
Today, you couldn’t find a more diagnostic indicator of American tribal membership than your opinion of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court.
Overall, I’ve noted that my Indigenous friends seem much better at dealing with the prevailing uber angst than I.
“How does it feel so far, Mike?” one such pal asked with some evident humour recently. His comment drew on the reality of living a long life fraught with angst induced by outsiders.
Most are counselling staying the course and maintaining a sense of humour. There is a sense of, “Keep on keeping on.” I’m also advised to focus on the change I can influence in my own life.
The kindest advice in this respect just came from my cousin David, who encouraged me to join the website Idealists of the World. I am one still, and I did.