Big Issues and Mental Illness: How to deal with world problems and ignorance

The world has always been screwed up. The problems that primitive man endured are the same that Renaissance Europe faced, and they are the same ones we face today. The difference is the magnitude of the problems, conglomerated with our enlightened views of morality and empathy and the brevity at which we receive notification of how these problems affect the world.

The reason why the world is still screwed up is us. We still operate at a base level from the reptilian part of our brains. The part that controls fight or flight, the basest of instincts. Our world has grown more complex, and the reptilian part of our brain is not built to deal with it. It’s very easy to spot those who rely on their primitive instincts to solve problems nowadays. They react to every problem with violence instead of reason. They put their own safety before others’. If they are not directly affected by a problem, they see no reason to solve it. Out of sight, out of mind. They only help others for personal gain or to save face in front of others who might judge them. Diversity is traumatizing to them, as they can only handle a reality that is familiar and comfortable.

We all know at least someone who is this way, and when they are part of our social circle, they can be exhausting. Their problems are never theirs; they project them onto someone else, or a group of people, or an event in their life. Having rational conversations with them is like getting a thousand root canals at once. Their circular logic and refusal to budge even when shown that they are incorrect are maddening to those of us who have bothered to put in the effort to educate ourselves.

It is people like this that are enabling our current world problems, magnifying them to staggering heights. I never thought in my lifetime I would see the rebirth of Nazism, the blatant slaughter of black people by law enforcement, the unlawful imprisonment of asylum seekers at the Mexican border, and the bloated pomposity and flippant disregard for the law that the current U.S. presidential administration exhibits. At any moment, on any day, we get deluged with the latest human rights violation or exaggerated falsehood our current Commander-In-Chief has regurgitated into existence via Twitter. It is all very difficult to handle.

Our education about mental illness has taught us that large scale issues, controversies, and problems can be incredibly harmful to those of us who suffer from mental illness. How can they not, when even things like washing laundry or getting out of bed consistently are painful chores for some of us? Musing on such massive problems can leave one in a state of mental and emotional paralysis, unable to process even the smallest joy or shallowest heartache because our empathy well has been robbed of its contents.

How can one who suffers with a mental illness navigate the mine fields that are social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and our most ignorant of acquaintances? Outright avoidance comes to mind. Social media is by far unnecessary for most of us. One can live day to day without poking or liking or sharing anything. However, those of us with social anxiety sometimes see it as a way to communicate and make friends without the investment of actual face-to-face interaction. We’re free to be who we want to be on Twitter or Snapchat. We can control our image, giving all our followers what we want them to see and hold back those aspects of our lives we’d rather keep hidden. This too, could lead into deeper social ailments, but for most it’s the only way we know how to interact with people without going into a panic attack.

Watching the news seems to be a game of “how is the bad news going to one-up itself today?” For those who feel constantly hopeless, this is justification for that feeling. Why bother trying to hold onto hope when the world is objectively hopeless? Look at the news! It’s right their in vivid audio and video that our world sucks. For me, the news is a reminder that as a species, we have many millennia worth of work to do to become our best selves. That process can only get started and perpetuated if we start now. Even the smallest bit of benevolence can change lives. We can beat back the hopelessness with even the smallest of sticks. Hopelessness is only strong when we let it be.

Dealing with people close to you that have yet to make that leap from reptilian instinct to human rationality can be especially difficult to deal with. They could be a co-worker, a friend, or a friend of a friend. They could be a family member or related to a family member’s spouse. Some of these people can easily be avoided altogether. For me, this seems to be the best policy. Others, like co-workers, you simply can’t avoid. Keeping the interactions to pleasantries or goings-on about work are the safest. At the first sign of turning the conversation to current events, politics, or religion, I immediately clam up or try to change the subject.

For those closer to you, a mutual agreement must be met. While not going into specifics, it would be best to declare that while differences are had, a respectful understanding free of malevolent feelings must be forged. Issues can be discussed, but if it gets heated, the conversation must be abandoned. However, if this offer is refused, or a person continues to violate it, it would be best to express that you are no longer comfortable with this person talking about the issues in question, and that they refrain from bringing them up again. Further violation of this should be dealt with by outright removing that person from your life. It may seem harsh, but people who consistently cross boundaries like that are disrespectful and harmful to your mental health.

Like bringing a horse to water, you can give a person operating from the reptilian center of their brain all the information they need, but you can’t make them accept it. This is a big problem for me, as I tend to get passionate about trying to get people to learn, but even I have to step back and accept that a person is just not going to get it and move on. And if this person questions your life choices, remind them that their opinion does not matter to you. You’ve made your decision based on reason and reality, and if they don’t condone it, they can not participate in your life anymore. Friendship is not worth sacrificing your own mental health and freedom of choice.

Our world is messed up, and humans are responsible for most of it. Nature has no choice; it can only react. As hard as they are to face, the problems we humans have can be solved. Sadly, there’s a large portion of us still operating at the base level of intelligence, and those people are hindering society’s progress. They believe without thinking or researching and have access to social media, making them even tougher to deal with and defeat. If we were among those people, it would be a feasible idea to eradicate them. They are a problem standing in the way of a goal we have, so they must die. We’re better than that. The only method of dealing with them is to make sure they understand that if they spout off ignorance, they will be ignored. This, of course, would lead them to only get louder and more tenacious. They will stop speaking and start doing. We have to respond with an equal amount of effort and empathy. Remember, these people are still people. They choose to live in fear. We need to understand that these people are acting out of fear, or trauma, or conditioning. Help can only be given if they accept it. Otherwise, we shall allow them to speak, but never give anything they say any credence. When all their efforts are exhausted, they will either comply or disappear. But if they disappear, we must be ready for an even larger assault in the future.

The cycle of ignorance is inevitable until we make our next evolutionary leap. We’re in its growing pains now. Let’s hope the leap occurs before we are wiped from this little blue dot.