Photo: Getty Images


What to do when the world feels like it’s on fire

Calamity dominates the headlines right now, and it’s hard to know how to engage with the world without hurting yourself, says Viv Groskop

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By Viv Groskop on

Just be warned, I might come out with some hippy shit this week. I am writing this as much for myself as for anyone else. I need to find an answer to this question: what do you do when it feels like the world is on fire?

I know what Oprah would say: get small, get still, get humble. But that feels like a cop-out. I want to do something. I want to do more than click on the 4958th petition link. I want to kick something. I want to scream. I want to set fire to something. And this is where the danger lies, people. The answer to the world being on fire is not to set more fires. It is time to squirt a water pistol at the Drew Barrymore within.

There’s a lot of anger and sadness about. It’s all very well trying to avoid the news and avoid social media and only talk about kittens and cupcakes. If you can do all that, do it. (I have already advocated monitoring post-Brexit news intake.) But, unless you have nerves of steel, full avoidance is tough.

At the weekend, in the space of five minutes I watched a video of two small boys losing their five-year-old brother in Syria, read several articles about racial tension in the US and the UK, and listened to the audio of Andrea Leadsom talking out of her maternal rear end. I did then watch a video of a stupid, distracting hamster wrapped in a towel slowly eating a piece of carrot. But it made no impact. The damage was done. I was going nuclear: headache, brainache, heartache, feelings of impotence, feelings of rage, the lot. If I could have turned green and burst out of my clothes into some ripped Hulk shorts, I surely would have.

Volunteer, march, join a party. Know your saturation limits in terms of media and conversations. Focus on where you can make a difference

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This is not, though, a time to become angry. I know some people will disagree with me here. How can we not become angry about the rise in racist attacks that are being reported in the UK? How can you not get apoplectic about politicians very definitely saying things and then saying, “Yes, but now that you don’t like me saying that, it’s not exactly what I meant. I meant to say something you would like me to say”? How can we not become angry that a Polish family who have lived in this country for 10 years have had their garden shed set on fire and received a hideous note made out of cut-outs of newspaper print, like something out of a bad Liam Neeson movie, complete with appalling grammar? But, I repeat, this is not a time to be angry. This is a time to find compassion, warmth, understanding and strength of character.

Yes, we all disagree with each other a lot at the moment. It’s easy to be tempted into slinging mud at others and assume that they are intellectually inadequate, temporarily insane or criminally ill-informed just because they have a different point of view. A tiny minority will capitalise on this situation to do bad stuff, sometimes very bad stuff. We need to guard against imagining that the minority is any bigger and less pathetic than it is. The fact is, most people are not bad. They are just insecure, tired, emotional, over-stretched and very much in need of what they once advertised on The Apprentice as an “emergency biscuit” back in the olden days when we all used to laugh at the same things.

What is to be done when the world is on fire? Guard against being drawn into the drama. If you can’t guard against it and you feel too changed by what has happened, act with peaceful purpose: volunteer, march, join a party. Know your saturation limits in terms of media and conversations. Focus on where you can make a difference. Care more about what’s immediately around you. Do feel free to boycott the hamster, because I really think he’s part of the problem.


Photo: Getty Images
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