Q. I am generally quite a cheerful person, but I find myself becoming overwhelmed by world events. I am scared about the future of the planet; about global warming; I am scared that there will be a war; that this country is going bankrupt. I am 19 and feel as if I am stepping out into a ruined world. I’m finding it difficult to cope. Name supplied
A. My first instinct is to apologise to you. I feel responsible on at least two levels – as a journalist, and as someone who has been on this planet for a longer time than you have.
My second impulse is to thank you – for being cheerful, and also for articulating your fears. Every time you raise someone else’s spirits, or admit your own vulnerability, that’s making a human connection.
My third thought is perhaps more random. I was having a conversation last week about writer’s block. I believe that feeling comes when we have too many ideas, and they form a bit of a logjam in our minds. I wonder if you feeling overwhelmed is similar: there are so many things to change, it’s difficult to know where to start.
I suggest that this is actually a brilliant thing. You were born into a world that really needs you. Although you haven’t exactly asked me a question, I guess it is: ‘What can I do?’ The short answer is: start where you are. Have a conversation about your worries with a like-minded friend and go to a local meeting (almost any meeting with the purpose of improving or changing something in the world); sign up for newsletters from a number of political parties or charities and see if any of their suggestions strike a chord.
There is a lot of academic research into what constitutes hope. It’s not simply an airy-fairy mist that descends on our lives, it’s a crucial survival mechanism that helps us to persevere with things. In one experiment, people who had been assessed as more hopeful were able to withstand pain for longer. I also discovered it is particularly motivating to have a valuable goal – but one with an uncertain outcome. I think the future of the planet fits that description.
While I had your question at the back of my mind, I listened to a programme about Hannah Arendt, a philosopher interested in how mankind might fight the possible rise of future dictators. She invented a word, ‘natality’, which means being born into society is a second birth, during which we take our place in the world outside our home, and communicate and argue with others. That opportunity beckons you now.
In short: be active; be kind (including to yourself). The world is full of good people but, if you can’t find one, be one.
Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.