Reclaiming our vision: Life at the end of the world
By Mark Thorpe, Head of Thought Leadership
We are becoming experts at living at what can feel like the end of the world. Pandemic. War. Climatic instability. Cost of living crisis. Despair mounts. The dark days of waking up each morning to mounting death tolls, first from Covid, then from the war in Ukraine, have been hard for many. So too has the wave of climate-change driven weather ”anomalies”. Late summer has also been a time of dire warnings about exponential increases in the price of energy and rampant food inflation. We have, to twist a phrase, never had it so bad.
Across the globe, there is palpable sense that we are living in precarious times. At the edge. On the cusp. At the end. Extinction event. We are, effectively, living at the end of the world, at least the world as we know it. There is a problem, though. This living at the end of the world is not only existentially destabilising, it also imprints itself on our collective memory and becomes the toxic birth-point of futures without hope. Such futures without hope are barely futures at all; more an amalgam of desperate survival pacts and holograms of hopelessness.
So, what’s the answer? Denial of hardship? Counter-factual positive thinking? Fabrications of golden ages? Scapegoating our way to happiness? None of these are solutions that will take us anywhere remotely useful. The fundamental problem is that we see our times, and our lives, as unprecedented. This isn’t new, history shows us that the human condition is one in which every present is seen, at that time, as unprecedented in the challenges it presents societies and civilisations. In a nutshell, despite all our technological and intellectual advances, we haven’t grown up. We remain prisoners of a narrative of progress that puts us at the apex of history.
Our challenge is to recognise that difficult times are intrinsic to life. Painful, yes. Damaging, yes. Unprecedented, no. Our communications need to reflect this reality. Life at the end of the world is marked by a failure to see beyond the darkness. Our politicians need to be better at providing hope, rather than farming despair and anger. Businesses, equally, have a major role to play; they can create a more positive mood and contribute significantly to the way our futures are painted. Likewise, our media, so often bastions of the darkly dramatic arts, need to soften and be part of the brighter re-framing of futures.
We also need to address the now pervasive short-termism that suffocates social, cultural, political and economic development, and that crushes a collective sense of futures that are positive. The economist Keynes famously said that in the long term we are all dead and this is an apt summary for much of what we see today. In this mindset, the future becomes somebody else’s problem, not something we embrace and plan for with optimism. Unfortunately, the short term becomes progressively shorter. Decades become years, years months, and months a moment in social media headlights. We think in ever shorter horizons.
It is essential that we stretch our horizons and to look further and broader. Politicians. Brands. Businesses. Citizens. All of us need to reclaim our vision. Futures are built and we can only expect to get the outcomes we work for and deserve. Those involved in communications have a massive role to play in creating this change. We need to be better in five ways:
- Championing Perspectives: be the clarion that reminds that we have faced bigger, deeper and more disruptive events
- Broadening Horizons: inspiring longer-term visions that are brighter and more optimistic
- Believing Bigger: raising our collective aims and ambitions, so that we collectively strive for more
- Believing Better: focusing on what we can achieve, rather than what we can’t, and believing in our ability to reach distant goals
- Making Change: recognising that we are the changemakers and helping our clients to believe that they are too