It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the flow of devastatingly worrying and upsetting news from different parts of the world, both far away and closer to home.
It is difficult to know how to respond to this in one’s every day life: in order to live our own lives well, is it best to ignore it all, worry about it or try to do something to help?
A multitude of ethical concepts inform our responses but not always in a conscious or coherent way and it can be difficult, unless we live by a secure religious framework, to know how to feel or what to do in face of the traumatic events which daily unfold. The pace, scale and ubiquity of news coverage has expanded our experience of frightening and upsetting happenings; it could, indeed, easily feel overwhelming and for young people often does.
In other words, while reference to good and evil, right and wrong and moral responsibility are made freely and regularly, fewer and fewer people are able to base their responses on a framework which helps them to decide with intent whether they should ignore, worry or try to help.
Sadly, too, unless our children are lucky enough to be taught by a teacher or in an environment which makes space in a crowded and formulaic curriculum, they may travel the length of their education without being provided with fields of learning which can help them shape their response to distressing events. They receive snippets of advice – ‘random acts of kindness’, ‘pay it forwards’, ‘love thy neighbour’, ‘plant a tree’. The vital task of helping them shape an ethical framework upon which to build their decisions for the future is too often eclipsed by the overwhelming message that all they have to do to succeed in life is to do well in their exams. If they are lucky, they will be helped to participate in activities or experiences which bring their learning alive and help them discover what matters to them.
So, how to respond to the torrent of appalling news in any meaningful way? It can so easily feel that well-meaning gestures of support or small gifts of aid are so insignificant as to be meaningless. This is surely not so. If we adopted the distorted fragments of wisdom we all receive, however indirectly, from Epictetus, the disabled Roman philosopher born a slave in about 50 AD, we would only worry about what we can actually control. Listening to the wisdom Voltaire’s Candide derived from his adventures, we might deduce that living a good and contented life rests on concentrating on doing well in our own work and not worrying about what happens beyond the world of our own experience.
But nowadays, what happens beyond our own experience is very much part of what we hear and see every day.
Whatever contribution we are able to make in face of events or circumstances which most touch our conscience must surely be worthwhile.
Whatever our ethical framework or the values we share with those we work or live with, there is always a way to make positive change. A reason, if any is needed, actively to do so is to help our young people see how we can do something to counter the ordinariness of the despair which daily fills the airwaves. Our children need us to provide opportunities to feel hopefulness – not blind hope, actual hope in the feeling of how things can be changed by human action even at a small scale.
For anyone seeking to make a purposeful contribution through the work they do, this broadcast is really worth a listen.
Alison Shaw – Shaw, Prof. of Practice for Inclusive Education, Newcastle University and Director NIBE