When the world becomes overwhelming, we might need to get more active | Claire Armitstead

Since we were little, our teacher, Mrs Wilcox, would begin class with the mantra that the new world was unfolding, “And we must embrace it with both hands”. I sometimes wonder what was going through Mrs Wilcox’s mind as she taught her pupils to embrace the new world.Was she trying to wash away the trauma of the second world war and the Holocaust through teaching us to embrace new horizons?Do any of us ever just “relax and love” the world that surrounds us?Wishing and hoping, like Mrs Wilcox, might make some reasonable people feel good.However, I am hardly alone in asking myself: “How does one love the world when the problems in it seem to multiply and challenge everything we think, feel and hope for?”I don’t want to sound like the hopeless victim of a lost generation, but life often feels so impersonal and unkind, like I am wrapped up in a donut. Our current tendency is to become what I like to call “allergic to context”.When Brexit came along, I was glad. The European project, the idea of nation states, the freedom of movement, the idea of shared European citizens sharing a common dream and a common currency, was all so dreary and uninspiring. We are perhaps inspired now to embrace the world more fully, or not, but we seem to be unfulfilled, rather than fulfilled.So, how to love the world?Many of us no longer feel inclined to tell people what we think, to cry, to be angry, to be fearful. Perhaps even to feel compelled to do something? As the shock sets in, the longing for something to change and sparkle seems to grow. Now, a sense of love and a newfound urgency to change the course of things seems to lead us to greater forms of activism and commitment. What is being proposed is, rather than more buying and consuming, volunteering and public service, rather than more political debate and talk, it might be better to try to tackle things and make the world better.Unfortunately, we are at a crossroads. Either there will be another Brexit, another European project, another opportunity to embrace new horizons, or we will continue to muddle through in harsh adversity. This morning, on my way to work, I was listening to a podcast I had listened to last week, in which the Guardian’s editor-in-chief said the paper had much bigger plans than a single paper going to print and getting rid of a niche news market.If the Guardian were to be a global brand, and it is, what kind of world would such a brand and such a model – combining digital and print, with readers (paid-for and independent) – allow?In other words, what kind of society are we building?Will we all continue to become spectators, imagining the positives and welcoming the opportunities to forge, for the most part, a constructive dialogue?Or will we continue to pretend it will be easy to stand up, to stand out?That’s because we are worried we are losing the good sense that has enabled us so far, to say something, to think out loud, to stand up for what we believe in. If we take such a brave leap in the dark, we may find there is no safe option but to join the ranks of volunteerism.We are often quite skittish about taking risks. I know for sure that I am still quite frightened that, in throwing myself into something new, I might, God forbid, fail. But here’s to a brave new world!

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