Society is very fractured at the moment. COVID-19 with all its associated issues has been a major factor but there are many others, related or not, such as: war in Ukraine, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, climate change, income gap, identity politics, inflation, cost of living, fuel prices, the list goes on and on.
Of course people have always faced these sorts of challenges but we really are in unprecedented times. Paradoxically, whilst people are much more connected and informed these days, we are also much more divided and misinformed. Peoples’ reactions are diverse; for instance, there are the lockdown and mandate protesters, conspiracy theorists, social media trolls, right wing haters and left-wing blamers. The media sensationalises things, social media amplifies the media, and people cancel each other out. When people yell at each other with their fingers in their ears they don’t hear anything outside their echo chambers. There is an epidemic of social distancing.
All of this leads to an overall increase in mental health problems. This is because humans are social animals and an essential psychological need, that all people have, is for good social relations within stable and supportive communities. Depression, anxiety and a variety of social dysphorias are often related to social isolation, distrust of others, intolerance, in-group favouritism, out-group prejudice and social instability.
This state of affairs may be the wickedest of all wicked problems, meaning there is no single, easy solution. However, whilst the solution will be complex and take time, it will include a few things we can all do now to alleviate and mitigate many of our challenging problems.
For starters, be kind. Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, considerate and generous of spirit. Nearly everyone is kind to their friends and family, but we should be kind to strangers too. Something as simple as a smile and greeting is enough to cheer someone up and add to the pool of goodwill in your community.
I believe the vast majority of people are decent. Yes, we can get wrapped up in our personal psychodramas but underneath all that we all have a common core of humanity. To tap into that common core when dealing with others is the basis of humane relatedness.
One way to be kind is to simply be tolerant, especially of differences of opinion. There will always be different, even conflicting, points of view. Sometimes the only thing you can do is agree to disagree and just get on with things. If you get offended by what people say you will always be indignant. However, since the only person you can rightly control is yourself, if you can’t learn to accept differences, you will be much better off to learn to not take offense. Besides, most people don’t wish to offend, and so it’s best to not take it personally.
Talk and listen
We need to talk more. Instead of saying ‘don’t say that,’ ask ‘why did you say that?’ Starting a dialogue with someone who has differing views allows you to learn something about them. You still might not agree with them, but you might better understand where they are coming from and why. Also, starting a dialogue with someone you disagree with gets you out of the isolation zone of your echo chamber so that you can learn and grow as a person.
Being humble is a way to curb arrogance and pride. It is very normal for people to think they are right. However, no-one is perfect. No-one is always right. Too many people are concerned about changing other people and not about changing themselves. Instead of calling others out, just be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. Others will see your actions instead of hearing your words, and showing is a much more powerful message than telling.