We love hero stories.
And sure, the hero stories we tell are all too simple, with one hero or, at most, a small team of heroes, having to rise against one (only seemingly) overwhelming challenge. All others around, whether they help or die, stand by or do something, aren’t all that important.
In real life, it’s all different.
There isn’t just one problem, let alone one single identifiable enemy out there (as much as we like to single out some religious or ethnic “Other” or some terrible organization or corporation). All too often, our very own “normal” ways of living are a part of the problem, and it’s all connected in ways that are hard even just to understand, let alone influence.
There isn’t just one hero, as much as we love to wait for the inventor who will give us the magic technology that will save us from all our woes, particularly when it comes to our own lives and happiness (and “environmental problems”). We will have to try and see what we can do for ourselves, in all the big and little steps and decisions that make up a life.
There isn’t just one solution, not even for us all by ourselves, and certainly not for us to make everything good for everyone. In fact, the widespread belief that everyone would need to be and think and live in one certain and well-defined way is likely to be among the main problems we have, seeing how the ever-more uniform lifestyles everyone aspires to, with money and possessions and consumption the only ‘value’ that seems universally acknowledged, are exactly what causes so many problems.
Only too often, with things being so dire and a focus on the negative being what gets the attention, we promptly focus on telling the darkest of stories. At least we can feel that we are raising the alarm, hope that it would spur action – but it mainly leads to symbolic action, enjoyment of the good that is to be had, right here and right now, and the hope for a savior to come from somewhere.
We are left – no, we are leaving ourselves – with nothing but questions like “How do you tell your kids the world is falling apart?”
I was a kid that learned that the world was falling apart back around 1990; it’s been falling apart all through my lifetime – and I still haven’t fallen into the popular trap of thinking that its not having completely fallen apart yet means that it hasn’t been falling apart.
As an ecologist, I can see too many of the signs of where we are pushing this our world apart; and if it hasn’t broken yet, it’s not because these signs are wrong, it is because we are not completely hopeless and the world is not without its resilience.
What drives me mad, however, is that we keep telling stories and keep talking about the facts of the decline, with nothing but tragicomic interruptions provided by stories of how those views are all wrong because some things have gotten better for us, instead. As the above article about the HBO series “Saving my Tomorrow” tells, the kids don’t need to be told the world is falling apart, they know and want to do something about it.
They need help; it all isn’t a matter just for the kids. It all isn’t just about the future, either.
I am an adult now, and I see how difficult it is to make a living and live better – but I also see just how necessary it is, including for our own health and sanity and happiness.
The world may be falling apart, but it is also still here. We are still alive, and we don’t just want to live small lives and get by and have it nothing but easy. But we also don’t want to be continually told that everything is all bad, or all good, and we would need to repent and do without (or just shop and throw out stuff), when we feel that things really aren’t that bad, but could be better.
The stories of great problems are also the stories in need of great heroes.
With the whole world one big pot of problems, and individual lives always presenting their challenges, be they large or small, we are all called upon to be the heroes of our own life stories.
We may not be able to tell beforehand that we will emerge victorious (and it’s a long-going discussion in the thought on happiness how the good life shall be defined when it just ends in death, anyways), but we still have to struggle through our lives, no matter what.
Why, then, don’t we tell our children – and ourselves – not only that “the world is falling apart” but instead focus on acquiring the tools with which we can live different stories that build a better world – and a good life for ourselves and those we care about – instead?
Of course, that raises another challenge: To find out how to do that, make a good example, and see how this manifold-better living can be accomplished. But, again, we are alive now, so we will want to live, and live well. What else is there to do but just float through a life that is all too fleeting, except to take it into our hands and become our life’s heroes.
We are human, so we don’t just exist and breed, we also aspire.
Let’s aspire to, and act for, better lives, then.
This year, rather than keep on writing against supposed apathy and misunderstanding of the masses (or in ways that feel as if that were what’s happening), we will delve deeply into the nitty-gritty of how the ecology of happiness works and can be used in creating better living.