Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Fear, Hate Make Us Less Than What We Are

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, February 8 / 21

Zack Gross

When times are good, history tells us that social peace is the rule in society.  But when times are tough, some of our worst traits come out.  Living stressful lives makes many look for whom to blame, makes us harder-line in our thinking, and can cause us to act irrationally and violently.

You can see the fear these days, often caused by feelings of things being out of our control and of ever-present danger lurking in our everyday world.  For instance, a virus stalks all of us, having already infected over 100 million people worldwide and killed well over two million to date.  People fear for their health and that of their loved ones.  They fear and experience loss of income, loss of community activity, and are stressed by changes in routines and relationships.

As well, our climate is changing drastically in front of our eyes, with unprecedented and violent storms, droughts, wildfires and more in every part of the globe. You can also see the fear as our world’s demographic makeup has changed with the greatest migration of people since the Second World War.  There is a fear of strangers, and fear of lost jobs.  There is always fear of change and outside threats for those who are comfortable, but that fear may be even greater for those who are just hanging on, with a poor-paying or no job.

We are being asked to rely on our governments, our scientists and other leaders in society to take a major role in helping us through these challenges.  We want quick solutions and the chance to get back to normal.  One wonders if governments expected the hysteria that has resulted from our reality of COVID-19, climate change and social upheaval.  The QAnon conspiracy theories for instance, the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and the demonstrations and civil disobedience that have caused property damage, death and further spreading of the pandemic.

Our confidence in our leaders isn’t enhanced by the sense of entitlement of people who traveled when asked not to and then complained when they had to quarantine or, having gotten sick in another jurisdiction, had to cover their own medical bills.  Leaders who tell us what we should do but don’t think it applies to them are yet another slap in our faces!

But in our dark days, you can also see the positive side of the equation.  Captain Tom Moore (and now mourning his recent death) raised millions for the British National Health Service.  Medical professionals and front line workers continue to sacrifice their physical and mental health and their family lives to serve others.  Businesses and families, despite tough economic times, pour record amounts of donations into food banks and other charities.

I recently attended via Zoom the meeting of a Manitoba food bank that has had its programs turned upside down by the pandemic.  One of the staff was giving a year-end financial report, which you might expect to be mired in red ink.  She broke down in tears when covering the revenue portion of the report as local donations were more than double what had been budgeted before the pandemic hit.  These were tears of joy, surprise and gratitude.

It is also instructive when looking at public opinion polls, to see that voters, taxpayers and consumers (some of us are all three!), want their political leaders to find ways to co-operate in these difficult times.  While debate must be allowed and people can hold differing opinions, the politics of division and hate will not improve our situation.  A survey recently showed that the greatest emotion in the U.S. after the change of administration was relief.  Facebook reports a major downturn in Trump-related postings and an uptick in pictures of puppies and kittens!  But this is not only an American problem.  We see ideological thinking in our own country and around the world.

It is useful to compare our current situation to that of past generations who have had to deal with challenges at least as onerous as what we face today.  We must keep in mind that in relatively recent history, our immediate ancestors have been faced with two World Wars, with a major global flu epidemic, with a life-altering Stock Market Crash, with loss of land and Residential Schools, the Holocaust, the Holodomor, and more.

How we handle current difficulties – hopefully with patience, compassion, creativity and resilience
will define us and our legacy, and strengthen generations to come.

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Manitoba-based international development organization.

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