We all have “almost lost” moments in our lives. They range from almost losing our umbrella, our sunglasses, our tickets, or our luggage to almost losing our job, our home, our spouse, our freedom, or our life.
Almost lost moments are usually followed by intense relief. Nothing bad happened after all – or if it did, it could have been so much worse. But the more serious the event, the more probably the initial relief will be followed by scary ‘what if’ – scenarios.
What brings these thoughts on today? Both the things that happen in the world and the ones that happened in my personal life. Let’s start with the personal side.
There we were, my partner in life and I, preparing for another day. Breakfast had been eaten, images had been photoshopped, a blog had been published, the home had been tidied; we were ready to take off on our customary weekend stroll.
Suddenly my partner’s speech became muddled and his lower left chin was paralysed. Before we knew it, we were in an ambulance on our way to the hospital with sirens blasting. Some time later the intensive care doctor came with the diagnosis: intracerebral haemorrhage.
I almost lost my partner in life. We had already planned how we would celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next year, and for a moment there it looked like there would be no celebration.
Three weeks later another doctor marvelled – not once or twice but three times – how very, very lucky my partner in life had been. Considering the size of the haemorrhage, his recovery bordered on miraculous, although a deep tiredness still remains.
Our life has taken on a ‘what if’ – twist. The wedding anniversary plans are still on, but now I am researching closest hospitals with good neurology departments in addition to best hotels as I plan our future travels.
While all this was happening in my personal life, the world moved on. In his eagerness to bluff, divide and conquer Donald Trump kept on stirring one pot after another.
There was a time when I thought of Trump’s presidency as a ‘almost lost’ moment in history; one from which America would recover with some scars, but with great relief that it could have been so much worse – and with a determination to ensure that this moment in history would not repeat itself.
Sadly there is nothing ‘almost lost’ about Donald Trump. The worst ‘what if’ – scenarios are already being realised. Truth is lost, integrity is lost, tolerance is lost, trust is lost. Instead we have lies and half-truths, blatant self-interest, bigotry and paranoia. Treaties and peace talks have turned into talk of retribution and outright war ‘if necessary’.
Many argue that cultures and civilisations each have their life cycle, just as we all do. Scottish philosopher Alexander Tyler divided this cycle into eight stages in 1787. He saw us marching time and time again from bondage to spiritual growth; from spiritual growth to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence, and then finally from dependence back to bondage.
Is this what has been happening in different parts of the world, the former leader of the free Western world included? Have too many voters and decision-makers in flourishing democracies landed in the complacency stage, some even in the apathy stage? Will others follow?
Robert E. Rubin, former secretary of the US Treasury, recently described in The New York Times how he came to believe that – while the present matters a great deal – in the totality of space and time, the here and now becomes insignificant.
According to Mr. Rubin this realisation shaped his thinking on how to make decisions and helped him build a durable sense of remove and perspective, when difficult decisions had to be made in times of financial turbulence.
There is, however, a fine line between a durable sense of remove and abandonment.
History is full of examples of decision makers who have achieved such a durable sense of remove that atrocities happen unchallenged on their “watch”. It’s happening all over again.
Some things are too serious and too close to home to be meant to be seen “in perspective”. Some things need to be acted upon immediately, before the poison takes hold and kills.
It’s a daunting time. My partner in life and I are in a phase of our life that could well spiral into apathy. We are like the culture we live in. We have seen so much, experienced so much, lived such a good life despite the ups and downs that we are complacent. Not ready to give up, but our fighting spirit is limited to actions like voting and blogging. Neither takes us far from our comfort zone.
Have voters in cultures at the end of their life cycle just lost their will to dream? Do they feel so overwhelmed by choices and decisions that they practically give their right to them away?
There used to be a right and a wrong, now there are thousands. Everyone has their own. Which means that the most unscrupulous ones will win, because they will strive to do so at any cost. The disunity of those who could win by majority, but choose to indulge in dissension instead, will make it easy for them.
Looking at the world scene – even as close to home as Hungary and Poland – who isn’t bothered by nasty ‘almost lost’ and ‘what if’ scenarios?
Can we really afford to just get on with our lives while we can, and watch the world change for the worse? Are we trapped behind our railing of comfort? If not, what can we do?
I think I will have to sit down and drink my cappuccino before I have the energy to try to answer that one.
And so my slide into apathy, dependence and bondage begins…