Last week I finished reading a dystopian Sci-Fi novel feeling drained and eager to turn to happy, escapism fiction. Surely society could not disintegrate into failed nations, warring or wary sects and violently intrusive surveillance?
The novel ended with only a weak flicker of hope for the future and huge unanswered questions about whether any character would escape despair into well-being. Before I could shake my gloomy state of mind, the news alerts from Paris hit my electronic devices.
That a violent sect could kill people and disrupt our peace is no longer surprising. We can point to an unending series of examples around the world. Even though I believe I should pay attention whenever people are suffering violence, I find the geography and frequency much more than I can grasp in any informed way. As I write this, hostages have been seized in Mali.
What causes me greater despair is how quickly people’s minds are seized with fear and their hearts turn hard. I am embarrassed that public leaders in the US and elsewhere are bolting the doors on desperate families trying to find sanctuary. I am just as troubled that we bar young men without appreciating they too might deserve a future. Why should my son, by luck of his birth, be privileged to have a career and family when so many men have no hope?
This is how we slide into dystopian times. We lose our compassion to see others as we see ourselves and our own. We forget that our humanity and our future depend on our ability to live together in harmony. Utopia is the opposite of dystopia. This side of heaven we may not achieve it. Evil is real; humans can do great harm to themselves and others.
However, we do have choices. We can live believing other people’s lives matter and utopia is a plausible vision. We are better off living up to a bold vision even if we fail to achieve it. We might avoid mutual destruction and have some chance for a livable future.
A bold vision emerges from shared vision. We need to find one that sustains us. When I see the stark divisions in our own country, where history and culture ought to provide some common ground, I do despair. Those differences are only magnified at a global scale.
We will never find a shared vision if we give into our fears, misunderstandings, and distrust. These emotions fuel dystopia. We need to choose to live with courage, seek deeper understanding and trust that we will find ways to make this world work better for everyone.