New Century

Who remembers Y2K:  The Cataclysm That Never Happened? Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? What about the Mayan Calendar’s 2012 Cosmic Shift?

As a unit of measure, a millennium is a pretty large scale. One thousand years or ten centuries; a lot goes down in a millennium. Not surprisingly, the dawn of any millennium births a thousand predictions, both dire and euphoric. From self-aware flying cars to ecological Armageddon, there’s no shortage of people prognosticating the contours of the next thousand years.

Millennia are catalysts for social change.

It seems almost as if the turning of the thousand-year time wheel triggers both dissatisfaction with the status quo and utopian dreaming of what might be. Often these two states of mind reinforce each other in ways that result in real social change. Sometimes, they also trigger actual revolution.

In this media-saturated age, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the possibilities, both positive and negative, that threaten to overtake us and steal any sense of control (whether real or imagined) over our own lives.

Compounding these challenges is the loss of certainty engendered by the diversity of world views, opinions and assumptions that shape our intellectual and emotion environment.

The more we know, the more we know we do not know.

The 18th Century, often referred to as “The Age of Enlightenment,” was born from early developments in the scientific method. Physical reality was being explored in rigorous ways that flew in the face of religious orthodoxy, questioning everything about the way nature and the world worked.

The 19th Century saw the inquisitiveness of the Enlightenment spread to thought in politics, religion, philosophy, and social constructs. It was a time of great social experiments and revolutionary change in societies throughout the Western world.

With the arrival of the 20th Century, we enter what most of us consider “modern times.” Opening with two World Wars, the mid-20th Century was a time of immense industrial and technological development, generating extraordinary wealth that directly and indirectly fostered challenges to social norms, putting the primacy of “the individual” on a pedestal. This eventually led to social fragmentation, the end of “mass” media and set the stage for the 21st Century’s drama.

The pendulum swings.

As we make our way into the 21st Century, we’re confronted with a number of quite extraordinary challenges. At the same time that society seems to be reaching for a more open and ethical standard, there is simultaneously strong push back from those who feel threatened by this alien (to them) landscape. Privileges are being challenged. Science and technology are exploding in a thousand different directions, from the mathematical mysteries of quantum physics to the very real and imminent ecological catastrophes predicted for the decades ahead. It’s no wonder that so many are metaphorically (and sometimes literally) diving under the covers and refusing to engage.

Getting out from under.

What are we to make of all this? When our information sources (whether broadcast or cable news, all the myriad social media feeds we consume, or the angst-ridden office water cooler) are jacking our individual and collective anxiety levels to extremely unhealthy levels, where do we turn to find respite from the onslaught?

Here’s a thought. Turn inward. Not to escape, but to discover something solid you can build on. There are a lot of motivational memes out there these daze touting the “power of gratitude” and “positive anticipation.” I do believe that the combination of finding something, anything, any little thing to feel grateful for in the moment, when combined with a genuine positive anticipation for what could come next provides a stabilizing, healing internal platform from which to move forward in your life.

Who is Pollyanna?

Merriam-Webster defines “Pollyanna” as “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything.” The term is often used in a derogatory way to suggest someone who is unrealistic and in denial of the darker aspects of reality. I am, by no means, a “Pollyanna,” but I do believe that cultivating this combination of gratitude and positive anticipation can be a useful tool to manage the overwhelming vicissitudes of modern life. These self-generated rays of light in an often bleak and sometimes threatening landscape can provide us with the power to take charge of our own minds, bolster our confidence and illuminate a way forward that offers a healthier (physical, mental and spiritual) way to be.

If you’re going to have habits, why do they have to be bad habits? Why can’t we become habituated to this more positive attitude? It’s worth a try. You have nothing to lose but another sleepless night hiding under the covers.

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