The world of my childhood seemed so huge and problems far away. In the 1950s (yes I am that old!), China, Australia, Hawaii were almost on another planet. Air travel was not common, and, crucially, there was neither colour TV nor 24 hour news. We were able to live in our own little bubble of life in the UK with the odd intrusion of threat from Soviet Russia, Suez, Korea but these seemed too distant to disturb our peace at home.
On my recent visit to the St Benet’s Monastery on the Norfolk Broads I became acutely aware of what a small sphere the monks must have lived in. The monastery was inaccessible other than by water or a long walk and was eventually abandoned for that reason. But, I thought, what a peaceful place it must have been without the endless battering of news and information that we are subjected to in the 21st century. Of course they would have had local gossip, rivalries within the church hierarchy, talk of wars in Europe, politics and the managing of food and supplies within nature’s upheavals but they would not have also had to carry the pain and suffering of the rest of the world along with their own.
It has struck me that today we see the troubles of the whole world on a daily basis and that this can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. It may be an earthquake in Nepal, a hurricane in Texas, drowning refugees in the Mediterranean, violence in Africa: these people enter our homes and disturb our equilibrium. We may wonder now why we went into Syria but I remember the photos of those beautiful children with their big brown eyes looking out at us, their parents asking the West to help and us responding with charitable donations while the government responded with battle.
In all this we can end up feeling responsible not just for our own families, work and livelihood but almost equally responsible for solving the problems of the world. It is, in its way, a glorious moment in history that we feel so empathetically involved with so many people across the globe and many charitable acts are achieved as a result.
And yet at the same time it is exhausting if we carry it all on our shoulders, as of course we can’t solve all these problems. And nor can most governments. A sense of helplessness can sink into our being with the inadequacy of our ability to ease world hunger, to bring peace to the Middle East, to stop the threat of Putin’s expansionism, of North Korea’s nuclear menace. It’s overwhelming. And when I read of children and adults in the UK experiencing increased anxiety and depression I wonder whether this exposure to the ills and perils of the world is impacting their mental health.
We can’t go backwards to the world of my childhood. 24/7 news via television channels and social media is a part of life forever, I suspect. And so I have been thinking how we need to learn to acknowledge what we can change and accept what we can’t, as the serenity prayer suggests. To do our small piece in life, make a difference in whatever way we can, but recognise that we cannot solve the problems of the world. To lighten the burden that is placed on our shoulders by de-cluttering our minds and focusing on the simple joys we can find in our own lives. To switch the attention we give to negative news and train our minds to seek out the blossom on the tree, the singing blackbird on the lamppost, the laughter of a child. To consciously make time to switch off and take solace, away from the battering of the media.
I’m not brilliantly good at this but I have become aware that I need to try to stop over-thinking solutions to all the challenges we face – and that includes a resolution to stop worrying about Donald Trump!