“I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”
~ Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope
I have told this story before: years ago, when I was a computer science teacher, I threw a question to my students: “If you get into a secretive computer system and discover that scientists or the government know of a huge meteor that will struck the Earth in just a few months, would you tell others?”
If you shared the information, people might freak out, there might be chaos and people’s behavior may become so unpredictable and even dangerous that the last days of life in this planet would also be the worst days for many. Any chance of survival, any chance for a last minute way out even for a few, would be closed…even without chances for survival, the last days may be so miserable that people might die even before they would otherwise.
On the other hand, if you give people a chance, they may use these last days to live differently: be with their loved ones, engage in spiritual journeys, behave (hopefully) with understanding and compassion towards others (human beings and species)
You would think that telling is better than hiding. In any case, people might be furious if they learn (too late) that they had a chance to do things differently…that’s an empowering expectation, but is it reflective of how people actually behave?
What if people have known this information all the time and chose to ignore it because it was unbearable?
Many public authors and leaders these days seem to acknowledge the monstrosity of the predicaments…just to quickly discard them at the end with some incredible platitude that discounts the enormity of the issues. I wonder if they are making the decision for us, to feed “optimism” and “inspiration” because they are scared of what could happen otherwise?
I myself move constantly between one and the other extreme: the thought is so surreal that I become numb, paralyzed, stuck and unable to make a decision: how do I share this without hurting people, how do I share this with my own children? How should I live my life now? What’s worth engaging and what’s not? My thoughts inevitably drift from “reality” to “reality”: I take decisions, make choices…”do what you love” says Guy McPherson, “be in the moment”…
I love life and just being here is and adventure. I don’t feel I’m stuck in a cubicle as this fellow blogger put it in this extraordinarily honest blog-post, because my life is full of nature, coaching people, projects, dreaming, doing… but there are so many things he says that resonate with me:
“Certainly the distractions of our industrialized culture have numbed most of our senses and reinforced the myth of our separateness from the natural world. How else can the absence of outrage or public lamentation regarding the unfolding ecocide be explained?”
Reading this during a break at work or while going home in the Skytrain, I wonder if I’m not so distracted (by my job, books, workshops, projects) that my outrage doesn’t show as it should…how else can I sleep or eat knowing that more than 50 millions of lives in Africa will end due to starvation as a result of Climate Change? Or that miles of forests are disappearing and species being pushed out of their habitats towards extinction? When did those facts become bearable to us or was it always this way?
Ken continues: “Living within this labyrinth discourages any introspection. There simply isn’t enough time, ever.” …and I recall how much my blogging has decreased since I started commuting, how my moments alone have almost disappeared, and even my sharing with like-minded people becomes a dot in my “to do list”, another distraction from fully feeling and embracing this reality.
Ken continues: “I write because, selfishly, I must. It is my silent scream outward from a dark, interior pain of alienation, frustration and sadness. I am not looking for a magic elixir or a pharmaceutical or an intervention to medicate or block out this pain either. I want to feel it because it exists and because this is a culture that I wish to separate myself from; and I think we must all feel it and show this publicly while we still have time.”
I move blindly and painfully between sharing and not sharing: does compassion also mean protecting people from themselves? Or is ourselves who we want to protect when we hide and play the optimistic, silent game?