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Calm • Anxiety
The Age of Agitation
We deserve to feel sorry for ourselves for the world we’ve built. We face unprecedented difficulties holding on to anything tranquil or soothing. We are continually – with the help of monstrous technologies – being goaded towards fury, excitement, panic and distraction. No hour of the day is free of reminders of where else we should be, what else we need to do and what may befall us if we are not extremely lucky or careful.
Other eras knew fear and disturbance too, of course. But there were an array of in-built dampeners that kept our forebears steady and that we have, without realising what we were doing, under a mistaken search for ‘convenience’, systematically dismantled. The walls between humans used to be more solid. We didn’t hear each other’s thoughts as loudly as we do now. We were less exposed to minute-by-minute discharges of envy and contempt. We didn’t need to know everything that unfolded in the minds of everyone else. There were long quiet seasons. We loathed the boredom and the dull skies – but how they protected us and how mightily we may want them now. All those eventless hours when there was nothing to watch and nowhere to go were – beneath the surface, far more than we ever knew – keeping madness and exhaustion at bay.
The loss of calm is very far from being all our fault. We are the victims of an age and of a devilish set of inventions – that began with steam and haven’t stopped since. Those who came before us were not intrinsically any more mentally self-possessed, they were just (in this particular area at least) a lot more fortunate.
We may feel our agitations very personally but we should, in order to be appropriately compassionate and productively therapeutic, learn to interpret them also with immense historical awareness – and ensuing generosity