This year especially, summer couldn’t come soon enough. And not because we endured a long, hard, unpredictable winter – which we certainly did. No, it’s something more, something almost intangible – a sense that things aren’t great collectively. Individually we might feel a certain sense of normalcy, but when it comes to our position in the broader world – our sense of hope, promise, dignity, respect, the ability to make change – we aren’t as sure where we stand.
This week our family has been volunteering at a kid’s autism camp, as we do every year. You could sense the careful disenchantment, the lack of optimism, the worry over our shared state of affairs in most conversations, coffee shops, and idle chatter. Much of it was about what was left unsaid: the usual banter, summer stories, family relaxation, thoughts on travel, or devouring a good book. Instead, the subjects revolved around Donald Trump, Doug Ford, economic worries, immigration, possible global conflict. Citizens always talk about such things, but rarely with such pessimism.
If historic reflections are anything to go by, such a restlessness within the citizenry and stock markets would be similar to the seething tensions throughout Europe in the days just prior to World War One, when alliances were breaking down, new ones being formed, complaints about migrants moving through the continent, and the colossus of America wishing to remain isolated, self-interested and aloof from those problems that were about ready to explode.
But for many these worrisome days would be more like the 1920s – those years just prior to the Great Depression, where fabulous amounts of money were being made by a few while unemployment began its ultimate ascension to record levels, farmers were beginning to lose their family legacies, and poverty, which had always been part of the pre-World War Two landscape, was quickly resulting in massive social dislocation.
It’s likely for most of the troubled conversations this week swirled around the latter trends – economic decline. But the global turbulence was hardly absent in many of the talks. We understand that America is probably at the epicentre of this prevalent glumness. Our friends to the south are going through a difficult season and we feel for them, not just because we’re their neighbours, but since we, too, feel a more muted form of restlessness than they.
Canadian author David Frum publicly stated yesterday that by a margin of 41-37, Americans feel that life is worse than 50 years ago. That’s 1968! It does no good to say it isn’t so; the point is they sense in the important aspects of their lives that they are in decline and that sentiment is more important right now than any stock market prediction or optimistic jingoism. If a nation that has traditionally been one of the most enthusiastic about its destiny – and its past – is that down in the dumps, there more to it than mere loss of perspective. There’s loss of jobs, loss of collective destiny, loss of progress, loss of hope in their politics, and perhaps worst of all, loss in their sense of the future.
But it’s hardly just the United States. People living in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Venezuela, Cuba, the Middle East, the Ukraine, Russia and even China carry similar doubts. This world doesn’t feel like a safe place to let our hopes go out for a walk at night – too many dangers, threats, even the unknown.
And Canada too? You bet, if the conversations I’ve heard this week are any indication. We understand that we have it better than most when it comes to stability, but we also know that we are a global country – and island of relative calm enduring the storm waves of international disruption – and that it won’t just be tariffs that we’ll feel pulling us down.
In short, we aren’t quite sure of just how to live – a question that would prove easier to answer if our global environment was more stable and trustworthy. It wouldn’t be a stretch today to avow that an increasing number of people are in doubt as to whether our hectic, pressurized, unsustainable, money-centred lives are the highest form of existence that humans can achieve. Those of us living in affluent countries are confirming in their suspicions that somewhere along the way we took a wrong turn and we can’t get back. Neither our political or economic leaders have provided that map to restore us to a place of more collective meaning but nevertheless encourage us to place the pedal to the metal in an effort to make up for our lack of purpose and direction.
As we seek sun, solace and serenity this summer, we are doing so in a world seemingly running amok. We can pretend it’s not there, but that is getting more impossible every day and in every news cycle. We arrived at this point because we were so busy living our daily lives that we misplaced a joint sense of vision and purpose along the way. Maybe it’s time this summer to consider, not how we go back or even forward, but how we rediscover our collective and individual abilities to make our lives more purposeful and rescue our futures in the process.