National Post (National Edition)
`Tomorrow will be better'
A MESSAGE OF HOPE FOR MY CHILDREN
Kids: recognize that as pandemic haunts the planet, you are lucky to live in the relatively safe haven of Canada, where hardship for most constitutes a week-long wait for test results.
Still, it has been a tough year.
Your dreams and desires have been ravaged by COVID.
James, you are 19 and should be revelling in your second year at McGill University in Montreal.
Fiona, you are 16 and would have been heading to Australia and New Zealand with your school choir, absent the pandemic.
William, you are two next month, and you've seen far too much of mummy and daddy and not enough of your grandparents and other kids.
Half the population is struggling with mental health problems.
For young people in particular, the burden has, at times, been unendurable. Suicide calls and emergency room visits are up, as are prescriptions for anxiety medication.
Even before COVID, the signs of crisis among your contemporaries were evident. Every parent I know talks about their teenagers' anxiety over environmental crisis, social inequality and existential geopolitical threats.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood can rarely have been more fraught.
How can you know what you want to be when technology is moving so fast that the jobs of 2030 haven't yet been invented? How can you prepare for an unknown future?
We, your parents' generation, can't possibly fathom how scary the rite of passage is at the moment.
But we can empathize and try to offer some perspective.
The vast majority of young people between the ages of 12 and 25 have no clear sense of purpose and worry about a “failure to launch.”
If you feel rudder-less right now, it doesn't mean you always will. Think about where your strengths lie, what you love to do and what you care about. Try to tap into those passions.
The media coverage of COVID — for which I am partly to blame — gives the impression that civilization is on the verge of collapse.
This is the “veneer” theory — that below a thin surface, our bestial nature is about to break out. Yet all the academic studies suggest that when disaster strikes, what is most evident is co-operation and communal spirit.
Evolutionary anthropology indicates that the secret of human success is our capacity for kindness — the most kind among us had the best chance of passing on their genes.
At root, human beings are friendly and peaceful.
Society is also capable of making slow, incremental progress towards solving its most stubborn problems. All the data suggests that the values of reason and science
have brought improvements in health, safety, peace and happiness. Life has been getting better for most people for a long time and 2020 will not put those metrics into reverse.
The apparently incurable nature of society's ills impelled America to dabble with populism. Its malodour lingers, but voters in large numbers have endorsed civility and consensus, rather than tribalism and zero-sum thinking.
Even climate change, an issue that persuaded you to become vegetarians (and then pressured me to follow suit) is solvable though incremental changes to the political system.
Don't succumb to paralysis. COVID vaccines went from clinical trials to being injected in people's arms in less than nine months — a process that normally takes years. Human beings are not only fundamentally good, they are ingenious.
This crisis proved two tenets of Buddhist faith — that the world is interdependent (what affected one person soon affected everyone else), and impermanent (eventually, the virus will pass).
We are already seeing vaccine being injected into arms all round the world. William Shakespeare was the second person in the world to get the jab at a hospital in England, prompting bad dad puns like “the taming of the flu.” Suddenly there was hope.
It was a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who said that if we believe tomorrow will be better, we can bear the hardship of today.
He also said that if you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see me and your grandparents and all the generations of your ancestors. “All of them are alive at this moment. Each is present in your body. You are a continuation of each of these people,” he said.
Indeed. You are the culmination of their story so far — a link in a long chain.
Don't despair. There is fun in the world. Think of videos of Olive and Mabel, the ultra-competitive Labradors bolting down their dinner: “Olive, focused, relentless, tasting absolutely nothing.”
And, after too long living in your algorithms, there will be human connection, too, when we're all together over the holidays, eating fondue, listening to Christmas music, watching The Polar Express and laughing at your little brother dancing to Feliz Navidad.
The comedian Spike Milligan once said that the best cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.
Equally, the best cure for the anxieties bedevilling your generation would be to quieten your minds.
I am not suggesting that because history is moving in the right direction, you drift with the prevailing current.
Maturity is earned. You have the capacity to beat your fears and apprehensions.
I am saying that things are going to be OK, even if they don't happen according to the schedule that you have in mind.
Calm acceptance that tomorrow will be better will bring sleep that beguiles the night and let you wake up looking forward to the hidden possibility of a new day.
Happy new year, kids — yours is the Earth and everything in it.