Connectedness: Overcoming Futurephobia
Updated: May 19, 2020
Words and Graphics By Maggie Favretti, 2019, All Rights Reserved.
Fear is the totally right and natural occurrence when we are threatened. It is, after all, what gets us to react to save ourselves and others, mainly by fighting, freezing, or fleeing. And truthfully, no one leads a fearless life. But fear that does not resolve quickly into safety causes a physiological reaction in the brain that can result in neurological restructurings, distractedness, trouble sleeping, trouble learning, and bad long-term decision-making. We may feel alone, or persecuted, or exhausted. Our sense of well-being gives way to a sense of everything being out of control. We do not need to be clinically traumatized to feel some or all of these symptoms when we are social distancing and “swimming in reports of COVID19 and climate change impacts.” And for most of us, our focus shifts to fear management more than listening, learning, sharing, and relationship building. You can see this all around us these days—seeking control in any way possible, from buying loads of toilet paper and guns to marching (with weapons) in opposition to common sense public health measures. Children, too, feel out of control, an all too common state of affairs, even when there is not a global pandemic and impending planetary disaster to contend with.
The American Psychological Association discovered in December of 2019 (just pre-COVID19) that 47% of 18-34 year olds’ daily well being is disrupted by fears relating to climate change impacts. An informal classmate survey in a public school in Bayamón, Puerto Rico showed that 100% of the students surveyed rated their level of concern about the future between 8 and 10, with 10 being “unable to focus on present tasks, multiple times daily.” 80% of their responses named global warming or its impacts, and the rest identified job security/poverty and insufficient education.
What can help us get from flight and freeze to fight responses (resilience), where existential global threats are concerned? Can we do this in parenting and education, too??
Some essential understandings:
1. Resilience is not DIY. Its absence is not a personal failing. Nor is it a tool you can suddenly pick up and take to the fight. I must say this, these days, a hundred times a week. We are all so tired of hearing people talk as if someone could teach you to be resilient in the middle of a disaster (because clearly, if you are afraid or exhausted or angry there must be something wrong with you because you don’t have that resilience trait or tool you are supposed to have)! Maybe somebody is going to swoop in, “teach you resilience,” and then leave you alone. Again.
2. People are resilient in full, beautiful, and direct proportion to the connectedness they feel with the people and systems around them. The sooner we understand that resilience represents the integrated capacities of a compassionate family, community, and planet, the more likely we are to see more equitable and promising systems emerge. Notice how people turn to others during a crisis. Understanding, supporting, and developing connectedness among and around our children, and how that grants us shared power more complete and more fair than any of our broken systems is what makes us resilient.
A few examples:
Celebrating health care workers and first responders, teachers and moms—every day at the same time. A singer at the window. Groceries for your elderly neighbor. A mask protects a stranger. Grandparents caring for the kids so mom can work. The bus driver who not only delivers food and a wifi hotspot, she cranks up the tunes and DJ’s a quick dance party study break. The teachers in mourning for the sounds of laughter and the everyday, unplanned “give and take,” who consistently work together way past their bedtimes to create virtual experiences they hope will be comforting, engaging, and connecting.
In Mariana, Humacao, Puerto Rico, a community creates its own outdoor kitchen and food network in the days after Maria flattened everything, involving every citizen in interlocking and productive ways. They created their own fresh water filtration system and power generation. Today the young couple who organized this response to a nearly unimaginable disaster is taking on empowering climate change learning rooted in a collective sense of identity and place.
This is the proof, this is the truth, all around us, in gestures large and small. We. Need. This.
3. Connectedness is a feeling of belonging, love, trust, shared experience…buoyancy. We feel less afraid, more able to adapt and to take risks. More able to confront and resolve. Better able to unravel and solve complex problems with global implications. We will make mistakes, but together we cannot fail. The big question is (thank you, Meg Wheatley, for putting it so clearly), how much connectedness with each other and our planet are we willing to feel?
4. There are a few things we could learn from trees. Human communities are like forest ecosystems. To thrive, we need each other.
Like trees, we need to be rooted. We thrive when we feel connected to a place and community, with our feet in the soil that feels right, which has just the right mixture of friend and foe, that connects us to each other—past, present and future. Trees outlast us. How often have we wondered what they would tell us, if we could understand each other? And forest ecosystems are, like all of Nature’s wonders, beautifully collaborative and connected, and can thrive indefinitely. How much can we learn from them?
5. When connectedness is broken: Exhaustion. Illness. Rejection. Grief. Betrayal. Human-caused Catastrophes. Trauma. Institutions that are remaking themselves in even more aggressive terms. (Working harder at a failed operation does not make it better.) Systems that are ever more disconnecting people from each other and from their future.
Education is our most powerful tool to build connectedness. First, we join youth back to themselves, to self-compassion and to notice their strengths and their roots. Support them in safety and guide them as they find their way. Then we connect them with community partners. Together we can address multi-disciplinary local challenges with global implications. We feel purpose, direction, deep noticing and learning, intention, efficacy. Connectedness.
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another, 2009