History has been bedecked with challenging times.
The end of this year and the prospect of 2019 does, however, present us with an enormous number of challenges that need to be thoughtfully addressed to avoid dire long-term consequences.
On the horizon, most imminently for our economies and our future, is Brexit. Most people concede that they have rarely seen political turmoil and disunion like it outside of wartime. No one appears happy and everyone appears to feel that we have seen a distasteful set of choices based on the simple polarities of racism and jingoism on one side, the vested interests of certain people with great privilege on the other.
Brexit did not divide society, it simply identified a theme constantly present in our society of the haves and have-nots, of those that influence and those that do not, and of those who feel empowered and those who feel powerless. Whatever the future, we must enable all citizens to recognise the encouraging examples of when the people put their feet down, governments must listen. It is unfortunate that that principle has been confirmed in something as profound as whether or not we remain in the EU.
Next, let’s look at the planet. Working with entrepreneurs all the time, I’m the first to say that those that can create jobs in our society are to be celebrated, as it’s not for everyone. Equally, how this is ethically done with good governance and effective corporate social responsibility is critical. How can we venerate those who generate wealth, when so many have failed to take responsibility for how their product is manufactured and packaged?
It’s not apocalyptic in the short term. It’s slow, insidious and is everyone’s problem. Anyone who thinks that we can defer to leaders, manufacturers, and politicians needs to think again. Consumer buying power is pivotal and everyone can make a difference.
Then we have global warming. It’s no good politicians and others denying the rise in greenhouse gases and temperature levels, and some people abdicating responsibility by concluding the planet is finished. The problem with “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”, practiced by so many, is that we’re usually alive the next morning to suffer the consequences.
We must also consider mental health. It’s great that we have an open debate, however we’re seeing more mental health problems than ever before. Some can be linked to past social unacceptability, a divided society, austerity cuts in services and other directly causative factors. Others, however, can be linked to the fact that to have a condition, for some, is almost a lifestyle choice. We have forgotten that challenge is part of the human condition that we often grow the most when facing difficult times. Pain and suffering are just as integral a part of the human condition as pleasure, and while we should ease it where we can, managing injustices where they occur, anxiety and unhappiness are, in some ways, part of the condition of living. To simply try and eradicate all misery is not only real unrealistic, it denies part of our humanity.
While I’d love to give an upbeat message at this time of year, the reality is the chips are pretty much down for all of us. We have to take responsibility, and be canny about how we balance different factors. It’s no good making a fortune if we exploit the planet. It’s no good pathologising periodic spells of unhappiness. Most of all, we must strive to be even more responsible citizens, better informing ourselves and being much more politically active, to draw those in power into proper debates and accountability.
May I wish you a responsible 2019