I read the top headlines from the news as I walk to my sociology classes in the morning with my earphones in, blasting 2000s hits. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from checking the news too many times in the course of a day because it makes me sad and anxious. I often feel like the same headlines such as abortion rights appear, again and again, coming no closer to a consensus and lacking any indication that the issue is to be resolved.
In a world that is facing fundamental social, political, economic and environmental challenges, it can be hard to focus on mundane things such as school and careers. Amid all the chaos — California literally being on fire four months of the year, millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, broken health care and education systems that leave citizens in lifelong debt — we face the burden of being the faith in the future. The truth of the matter is that our generation hasn’t created most of the problems we face today, but we are the only ones who are incentivized to solve them if we want to see any semblance of a future.
It is easy to blame the politicians and billionaires who have more power than anyone else to help people who are struggling, yet choose to uphold the status quo and block aid and relief. At the same time, it is an illusion to think that these people are simply bad apples and could be replaced by someone who will do a better job. Many of the problems we face build upon each other because the system enables them to. This means that improving the world requires a complete dismantling of our political structures and economic system; this is significantly harder than the replacement of a few 80-year-old politicians. Rebuilding systems is a complicated and radical process, yet something that is not entirely foreign to a generation that grew up reading dystopian series such as The Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergents — the books that filled my shelves as a child.
I often find myself mad at the world for letting so many of these problems occur yet paradoxically, I am filled with guilt for not doing enough to solve them. It seems that many people, especially those of older generations, are happy to remain blissfully ignorant of the chaos and suffering around us and take the easy way out by blaming the individual work ethic of young people rather than broken systems. For example, Boomers and Gen-Xers claim that millennials can’t pay rent because they don’t work hard enough. This complaint ignores the fact that the cost of living has not risen to match inflation, and this is the reason many millennials can’t afford basic needs — not some internal human failure.
Because I am so consciously aware of the ways in which systems are broken and so many people are either blind to these problems or pretend to be, I feel that I have an even greater duty to fix our systems. At the same time, I know that it doesn’t even make sense for me to begin tackling some of the problems we face. For example, just 100 companies cause 70% of global emissions. If one of these companies were to change its ways, this would have a much larger impact and be exponentially more effective than anything I could ever do. I could cut out meat entirely, reuse bathwater and never take airplane trips ever again without even coming close. I know that the onus is not on me alone to solve climate change. This results in cognitive dissonance because the companies responsible for worsening climate change will likely never do anything differently, especially as long as society feeds the narrative that we as individuals have the burden to change our daily lives to decrease our minuscule carbon footprints.
Constantly worrying and agonizing over the future is not good for mental health. Yet I ask myself all the time how people are able to function normally when everything is falling apart and the world is burning to the ground. We have to remind ourselves that we must take care of ourselves and our mental health in order to fix the world.
We live in a society that places a large amount of emphasis and value on the individual and on individualistic action, but building a better world requires the power of collective action. We can make individual decisions to take shorter showers, but we can also gather together in front of Congress and demand a living wage and universal basic income for every American. We can join our campus lecturers and graduate student instructors in striking for higher pay, and we can collectively vote against propositions that classify Americans as independent contractors rather than employees.
The greatest lie society has fed us is that both the burden and power we hold are individual. Once we recognize that we can rely on each other for collective action, the power we hold as a community increases and we can fulfill our role as the faith of the future.