Monday, June 17Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Where do we even begin? 

I left the tube station, aggressively double clicking the side of my phone to ensure that Apple Pay, custodian of my Monzo card, was ready to do its job. The expected bout of hyper self-awareness kicked in, certain I was subjecting myself to the glares of the people behind who were shouting obscenities at me in their heads. I was absolutely sure of this. I went through the ticket barriers without a hitch, unlike a man ahead who had a less fortunate experience and, as a result, our lives intersected for a few brief minutes.

Dressed in a blue suit with a carefully placed Prostate Cancer UK badge pinned at the lapel, he strolled through the station with a wide stance, and an increasing verbose rhetoric of disappointment. Without remembering his exact words, he claimed he was shocked and dismayed at the state of the country that, in his mind, was in decline. No question about it. The man vocally revelled in his feeling ashamed. His bold statements filled the exit tunnels, turning heads and eyes alike. More importantly, turning cogs in my brain trying to think of the right thing to say in response to this complete stranger, who clearly wanted to engage in some sort of a rant. The best I could do at the time was, acknowledge his statements, nod a little, put on an attempt at a soothing smile and agree that things were seeming particularly glum. It was a Monday after all. 

As we went our separate ways, I wondered how long he would stay angry. Was that it? His big stand against the system; a rushed, incoherent diatribe to a grand audience of ten people in a tube station on a Monday evening. I wondered if he went home and caught a second wind, perhaps venting to a partner, or a child, or a pet. I wondered if it would keep him up that night, the state of the world bothering him as news of more horrific things probably troubled his phone screen to add insult to injury. Most of all, I wondered if he would go as far as to try to do anything about it. 

I recently read an article that reframed several statistics and, in doing so, claimed that if 2023 and the general future were viewed from a different perspective, the world cannot possibly be as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Deep breath out, I thought. Statistics tend to make sense, so it was a matter of shifting viewpoints which really made my short lived global fatalism a lot more palatable. Realising this, the anger and concern dissipated and I just went about my day. After my brief encounter with the man at the tube station, I questioned whether this article really did me any good. It subdued me, calmed me down and allowed me to go on with my life. 

Paired with the numbness I now feel as the BBC banners fly in, be it mass shootings, natural disasters, endless political nightmares, or whatever else fits in the daily quota, I wonder if there could possibly be anything that surprises me anymore. I remember watching the news religiously when Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine began, heart racing when notifications flew in and slowly over time, without me really noticing, my fight or flight response was unmoved. Have I adapted to tragedy? If I have, it begs the question, is this really a survival tactic or is it what is actually killing us all, planet included? An ever growing apathy, ready to dissociate from the unfolding carnage we sow. 

I am certain that the man’s public rant was cathartic if nothing else, as he looked for comfort in the reassurance of strangers that his verdict was correct. Just like clapping for the NHS made millions feel better during the pandemic. Donating a fiver, posting a black square on Instagram. These things are so easy to do; pain reducing, dopamine releasing, comfort inducing acts. They all feed that desire for change, the passion to make things better and subdue anger, after which we return to our lives as usual and wait for the next thing that shocks us into a split second of simple, feel-good action. But what about doing something more, something bigger, bolder, more lasting? What is it that stops us from meaningful change? 

Perhaps it is a fear of failure. I recall friends and stories of perfect strangers who have risked everything to fight for a worthy cause and have failed, unlike the heroes in my childhood storybooks. The fact that in this world evil can triumph, no matter how much we make-believe that goodness will win out in the end, can be rather off putting and demotivating to say the least. If not fear of failure, then perhaps the confusion and complexity. Those simple acts we all do are not out of mere laziness, but rather because they are things we can do. Micro-changes, so to speak. Things we can do without major disruption to our schedules, bank accounts, and personal lives. Perhaps it is not heroic or particularly groundbreaking, but it is feasible and sometimes feasible has to be enough. 

So are we just stuck in a world that pans out nothing like the storybooks told us, buying into the ideas that those that came before us penned as fantasies to escape their own tragic realities playing out before them, with no real chance? Or, do we all need an awakening: an epiphany to set us onto the right thing which riles us enough and, crucially, for long enough to pursue that battle? And, if so, where do we even begin? 

Perhaps it is all these things, but there is also one truly bold act to be discussed. The act of pursuing happiness in and amongst all the chaos and the pain. The joy felt when seeing a loved one smile, when seeing something funny happen on the street. The happiness that the man on the tube may have inspired by wearing his pin in support of a charity that might have impacted the lives of several commuters he encountered on his journey. The bold choice to continue to find a way to smile on a gloomy day when the world seems to be falling apart in all comprehensible ways. Perhaps that is how we realise that there is still a lot left to fight for, that there is hope, and that’s where we begin. 

Image Credit: Tom Parsons via Unsplash