The fear is palpable. People are terrified of what the future holds.
It crosses boundaries and favors no side or color of the spectrum. The left is in an uproar about the right, the right is in a panic about the left. The centrists dread the radicals at the fringes, and the zealots warn that the complacency of the moderates will bring us to inevitable ruin.
What is the root of all this fear? And what is the solution? Is there a way for us to allay our terror and move forward with confidence and security?
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his recent TED talk entitled “How we can face the future without fear, together”, provides a simple cause and a simple proposition. Fear, he suggests, and all of the social ills that it begets, are the result of a modern focus on the self. Security, he proposes, and all of the social good that it will engender, will result when we focus instead on the other.
Future anthropologists, Sacks foresees, will look at our age – with all of our books on self-help, self-esteem, and self-discovery, and with our ubiquitous ritual of ‘selfies’ – and determine that the primary subject of our concern and our worship is our “self.” This self focus is in stark contradistinction to our history as a species – by necessity and by nature we have been social beings, reliant on the group and caring of one another. Only with modern “advancement” have we been enabled to retreat so completely into individualism. Only recently have we been able to surround ourselves nearly exclusively with people and ideas that conform with our own.
But this luxury, Sacks argues, has not made us more secure. Rather, it has rendered us less capable of handling ideas and situations with which we are not accustomed and comfortable.
Fear, we find, is the result of an insularity that pulls us out of the world and further into ourselves. Like biological immunity, an organism becomes less tolerant of foreign organisms with which it has had less contact.
The antidote, Sacks prescribes, is to come out of ourselves and to mingle with others as often as possible. We are stronger, he suggests, when we engage with those unlike us and those unknown to us. “It’s the people not like us that make us grow,” Sacks insists. “The best way to strengthen the future you, is to strengthen the future us.”
While many today are responding to their terror by retreating further into their entrenched ideologies and huddling behind their particular perspectives, the only way to truly allay their fear is by stepping out of their bunkers and across the lines that they have drawn to protect themselves. It will take courage, as well as caution, but we will find that we are stronger together, and only together are we able to face our common challenges and achieve our common goals.
Watch Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ TED talk here, or by clicking on the image above.
Marc Erlbaum, Contributor