The Kenyan college massacre in April, the Russian plane crash over Egypt at the end of October, and, most recently, dual suicide bombs in Beirut and a series of attacks in Paris have caused understandable concern and anxiety. I have heard many people in the last several days talk about “what the world is coming to” and express fears about living in a time and place where terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere.
In reality, living in this world is precarious, but with social media we are made immediately aware of any travesty occurring in the world in real time. People’s anxieties and fears spread at lightning fast speed with the click of a button.
A hundred years ago, I imagine what my great grandparents must have thought. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, nations on six continents were forced to choose sides for the first time in human history. At the end of WWI in November of 1918, deaths from the conflict reached 17 million people. Beginning in April 1918, the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people, 27% of the world’s 1.8 billion population, and killed between 50-100 million. If I was living in 1918, watching the world fight each other while Influenza wreaked its havoc, I would wonder about bringing a child into the world even if news traveled more slowly, across telegraphs and oceans.
However, if Jackie Robinson, Nat King Cole, Sir Edmund Hilary, JD Salinger, and Henrietta Lacks had not been born in the years 1919 and 1920, the current realms of baseball, jazz, exploration, American literature, and biology, respectively, would look much different today. Many of these brave souls knowingly fought through physical and/or societal barriers. What if their parents had been afraid of having a child because the world seemed to be falling apart around them in years before?
I am not one to say that “everything happens for a reason” because it is an incredibly cruel turn of phrase to anyone suffering grief or unfortunate circumstance. I will say, though, that because of the death and destruction caused by the Spanish Flu, Alexander Fleming—the future discoverer of antibiotics—was intent on finding the cause of the virus in an attempt to stop anything like it from happening again. The development of antibiotics would be revolutionary and save millions of lives. From exceptional devastation can come tremendous improvement.
Humans push forward, even when they’ve seen the worst that existence and humanity has had to offer in just the last 100 years. The Ukrainians who survived Stalin’s Holodomor in the 1930s went on to have children. Survivors of Nazi concentration camps went on to have children. The Chinese who survived the great famine in the 1950s went on to have children. Survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia went on to have children. Survivors of the War in Darfur went on to have children. People in parts of the Middle East and Africa are currently struggling to survive, traveling vast distances to protect the families they have and will continue to have.
Growing our families and having hope for the future is a common thread throughout many of our stories. The smallest threat of one person possibly infiltrating a group of thousands is not a good enough reason for me to turn my back on those seeking a better life. There is potential risk in everything we do. When we step back and rationally analyze our chances of being involved in a terrorist attack over a car accident, we realize that we are much bigger risk-takers than would be terrorists could ever know.
The truth is the world is actually safer than it has ever been. Worldwide, there is less war now than at any other point in modern history. It is hard to believe this based on how we are inundated with terrifying news on the radio, television, and internet. The few places where war is occurring, it is raging with a vengeance, and we need to help those involved. The world is not perfect, but overall it is safer. There are still problems to solve like pollution, social injustice, climate change, worldwide income inequality, gender inequality, LGBTQIA rights and protection, and water scarcity. Some people would point to the fact that we should stop having children. It is not a feasible solution to suggest that people stop having children altogether, but the choices we make in the context of our survival can have a profound impact on the world. I choose to believe that there is always hope in the next generation.
In the last 100 years, we have seen the advent of radio and television broadcasts, the internet, artificial hearts, kidney dialysis machines, helicopters, jet engines, smoke detectors, digital cameras, and cell phones. We have put a man on the moon and explored the solar system and outer universe. The rate of innovation seems to speed up with each generation, and I can only imagine what the next generations will be able to do. What if a child born tomorrow is the one that figures out an inexpensive way to desalinate ocean water? Discovers a magical way to get all babies to go to sleep without crying? Discovers a pollution-free, sustainable, and efficient form of energy? Discovers an antibiotic that can take on Superbugs? Is an influential, kind, and just peacekeeper that can bridge one or more communities of people?
Each generation hopefully learns from the generations before, what to do and what not to do. It is our responsibility to teach our children to be sensitive to the plight of others, to be aware of the issues in their microcosm and globally. It is easy to come from a place of fear. We are hardwired to fight or flee when faced with a circumstance that tugs at our anxieties or reminds us of our mortality. When we stop, though—take deep breaths and remember what the risks are for actual occurrences—hopefully we can make decisions from a place of empathy and compassion instead of fear and isolationism.
Hurt, pain, and loss are inevitable elements of the human condition, but for a large majority of us—so is hope.
There is always hope.