An era’s spirit is impossible to capture, so don’t let cynicism win

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I found the attached picture on Reddit a few days ago with the headline “This photo taken in Paris perfectly captures the spirit of an era.”

My first thought was that the poster was right. We live in an era characterized by a willful disconnection to many social problems. It seems like if it’s not impacting people directly, they would prefer to ignore the problem – presumably out of selfishness or a belief that they can’t do anything about it, so they shouldn’t let it be a burden.

But I think that there’s more that needs to be said. The trouble with social media is that it boils down complex issues into pithy, superficial headlines. And, let’s be honest, most of us just read the headlines. This results in taking sides without thoughtful consideration of the context or other pertinent factors and could likely be a leading cause of much of the polarization we seem to be experiencing.

Our era is characterized by much more than mere selfishness. Don’t believe me, check out reddit.com/r/wholesomememes. Here’s a taste:

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Most people are not walking around looking to one-up each other. Sure, there’s a lot of competition. But to boil down the 21st-century Western world into a unique kind of psychopathic self and technological-absorption is ridiculous.

We are complex creatures, experiencing unique realities with different values.

However, there has been some progress made that gives insight into some common themes.

At our deepest, for instance, we all want connection, a meaningful life, and to feel loved and accepted – both by ourselves and by others.

Selfishness, greed, corruption, ego trips, prejudice, and abuse have existed since the dawn of civilization.

Moses freed the slaves. Native Americans battled for territory. And tycoons built America on the backs of people with no access to education.

Never underestimate the difficulty in attempting to define an era. There are powerful stories and nuanced truths everywhere.

The story of the grass growing can be purely scientific. You can focus on the photosynthetic process and the intricacies involved with the conversion of sunlight to energy. Or it might be about values and ethics. Kentucky grass is foreign to many areas, and its use in many yards is contributing to a decrease in native prairies, which harms local wildlife. Or they can be spiritual and enchanting. The Talmud says that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”

Yes, there are problems. There always will be. But you can choose faith, hope, idealism, and wonder or you can choose cynicism and nihilism. Both tend to be equally correct. Right now there’s simply no way to know for sure. And secretly we all want to take the first route.

Here’s a simple reminder you can keep with you for hope when all seems to be going wrong: we tend to crave a happy ending.