The future is not as I imagined it would be when I was a child. In the seventh grade I submitted a science report entitled Will the Earth Ever End? I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty fascinated with apocalyptic scenarios since I was quite young. My report included everything from environmental collapse to a large-scale alien invasion. I noted that regardless of what happens in the meantime, our sun will one day die out, leaving Earth inhospitable to life. But that’s a very long time from now. In hindsight, I now understand that much of my interest in the end of the world stemmed from my prophetic tendencies. I mean prophetic in a strictly imaginative sense, of course. I have always loved to imagine the future, often wishing I could extend my life just to see what happens.
But frankly, I never imagined any of this. In all my musings, I could not have foreseen a plummeting trust in science, nor the rise of a dictator in the west. If I were to consider my passion for the environment specifically, I certainly never imagined large-scale denial of climate change, or the collapse of the Great Barrier Reef. No, I imagined the opposite, because global warming was just as real then as it is now, and it seemed that human consciousness was just beginning to bud.
Now I find myself in a world full of selfies and anti-science; revitalized hate groups and deep-seeded nationalism. This is a world that includes funeral protests by the Westboro Baptist Church and a U.S. President-Elect named Donald J. Trump. I’m not sure how the Earth itself will end, but if I’m being realistic, this human world is on a path to nowhere fast—if we keep doing things the same way.
It is time for a revolution, and a rebellion of sorts against that which works to bring us down.
I recently saw a meme on social media that read, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” And it made me realize that there’s so much in the past thirty years that we’ve gotten wrong. We have encouraged people to focus on themselves, underscoring the importance of introspection to spiritual awakening. Spiritual growth is now practically synonymous with self-awareness. When it comes to the outside world, we have convinced ourselves that acceptance is the only way to move forward, especially when things get challenging. And the more challenging they get—the more impossible they seem—the more effective acceptance can be. As a psychologist, I understand why this is true on an individual level, and from a physiological perspective. By giving in to what challenges us, we mitigate our stress response. We more quickly return to baseline, avoiding the potential long-term impact that continuing the fight may have on body and mind. But in doing so, we turn further into ourselves. There is knowledge and self-enhancement to be gained from exploration of the self, most certainly, but we simultaneously isolate ourselves from the world when introspection becomes both the means and the end. Acceptance of the “things we cannot change” quickly becomes an excuse for inaction and complacency, and for disengagement from the world outside. We delve deeper into our skin-laced cocoons, priding ourselves on our knowledge of within, all the while ignorant to the world around us. Have we really stopped to consider the outcomes of an exclusively self-involved purpose? (Might they include such social phenomena as selfies and narcissism?)
Regardless of the extent of our introspection and self-care, society nevertheless requires civil engagement to function optimally. And so I fear that psychology and related disciplines have done a disservice to society at large. Consider an alternative perspective on personal growth and awakening; that to get there, to attain true enlightenment, you must look both within and beyond. Consider the idea that personal growth can also result from engagement in the world around you; from standing up for a cause, from defending an idea, or from raising your voice when you would have otherwise turned within. The truth is, we are products of both nature and nurture. In adulthood, our environment still matters; the situation is always key.
It is time for a revolution, of the existential and spiritual kind, surely—and of the kind that involves a fundamental shift in how we relate to the world. We have become complacent over time, tempered and soothed by our personal care and self-indulgence. While I support introspection as one means to enlightenment, it is only one, and it is insufficient on its own. In the absence of the same attention and care for the world around us, it has given rise to a Trump presidency and the potential devolution of human rights everywhere (among other frightening outcomes). I call for a revolution on a global scale, and a rebellion against that which stands to position us all as individuals and individuals alone. I call for a defense of truth, and a rejection of science-denialism. I call for a revival of fundamentalism in civil rights, such that they surmount politics and culture in every instance. No longer should the protection of rights and freedoms be considered a political stance—it is a human one. I call for a stronger defense of morals and ethics, and a more explicit expression of empathy in interactions both large and small. I call for the protection of reason, and a rejection of all that attempts to deceive and exploit us.
The inner revolution has been waged for decades. And it has brought us here. From the troubling to the downright insane, I don’t like the world that is unfolding before me. It feels disconnected, and isolating, as if everyone is out for themselves. But I can do something about it, and so can you. We are all rebels at heart. We know how to do this. Our society is founded on the spirit of revolution—the desire to do better, to reach farther, and to overcome that which tries to bring us down. It is infused in our popular culture, and in our idealism. In truth, the Earth itself isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but questions remain about us and our place here. If we’re going to steer this ship, we need to step up our game.
This is no time for complacency. This is our time to be heard. This is our time to stand up and fight. We are a human alliance, and this is our revolution. It is our rebellion.