As well as a burning desire to save the world in some way – or perhaps this is a correlating trait – I find quite a few of my friends seem to be prone to depressive ways of thinking. And I’m not just talking about my emo arty friends, who believe that all artists have to be damaged to create. If anything, friends in more “practical” subjects are perhaps even more susceptible. It is a kind of misanthropic despair for the state of the planet, and frustrated anger at cruelty and bigotry. It is a penchant common amongst the highly sensitive and intelligent, and I think is especially pronounced in young people. Throw in some Higher Education and an inquisitive mind that soaks up dismaying information like a sponge and everything just starts to seem pointless and absurd.
Then there’s another layer of misery: feeling a ridiculous guilt and despair for the despair. It’s the meta-cognitive awareness of the irrationality of these negative feelings, while appreciating their necessity as a spur to be an agent of change, and feeling unable to stop them anyhow. I am not immune to this kind of downward-spiralling depressing train of thought, though it has improved markedly with every year that passes. I find a good vaccine is to carefully control what I consume, and to invest in my personal relationships. Though I wonder, in curating what I read and watch and in laughter with my friends, whether I am effectively managing myself or simply distracting myself from the Big Issues? It is a dark and difficult place though, worrying about the whole of humanity, and I don’t really see the utility of being stuck there.
At the same time, I do not want to stop feeling sadness, indignation and anger at the world’s issues, big or small. I am not so in love with the peaceful, easy life that I seek to avoid all uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or interactions. I know well the consuming feelings of anguish and outrage when I hear about injustice; they are useful and tell me my spirit is alive. It’s perhaps prudent to not get overwhelmed and to pick your battles, but once you do, go all in; we surely all want to exhaust ourselves in the service of a better world.
My friends might be a tad depressed, but they are my friends because they have vision. They care about what goes on beyond their personal comforts and their own little worlds. What makes me go cold all over is not hurt or rage or discontent, but indifference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no avenging angel; none of us are. It is of course important to turn emotions into effective action, however big or small, and this is my hope for all of us. That our despair is not for good – but will ultimately serve the good.