It’s a difficult world at the moment. There is a pervasive bleakness that is impossible to deny and it would be easy to sink under the overwhelm and hopelessness that characterises the times in which we find ourselves. What does an individual do in times like these?
In our Philosophy in Public Spaces group (you can find out about us here: https://pipsgy.wordpress.com/) we regularly conclude our discussions with Voltaire, and the conclusion of Candide that we should cultivate our own garden. This doesn’t mean turning your back on others and ignoring the troubles of the world; it means focusing on that over which you have some control, finding the place where you can have agency and impact.
At one time, I was an avid consumer of MSN and was easily drawn into the drama of the daily news agenda that is determined and decided for us. Having given up on MSN, withdrawn from watching television and listening to the radio, life is quieter. It is not less well-informed, just informed differently. I would rather listen to the wind and the blackbird singing than to the superficial propaganda from the relentless news cycle that tells us what to think and feel.
In spite of withdrawing from regular television, I like to watch good stories on a screen and for those stories to take me to another time and place, when the world was different. Presently, my favourite place to go and find a meaningful story away from here and now is in Cicily, Alasaka, the early 90s. I am taking a slow and joyful amble through Northern Exposure, a place where community matters, where people live in synch with the natural world and where being in the true sense of the word is explored and celebrated. I often find myself in tears at the end of an episode because something profound and beautiful about our existence has been shared. A recent episode I watched featured Chris in his artistic persona planning to fling a cow from a giant catapult. Because of the show’s moral centre, a cow was never truly at risk of such an horrific death but I was disturbed at the thought. Chris eventually flung Maggie’s fire damaged piano and the scene was beautiful. The conclusion was that the act of flinging was more important than the object being flung. This has stayed with me. I’ve thought about my own propensity to hold on to things, to not release them. I could do with a giant catapult to do some flinging. Or maybe, I could just mentally fling and release some of the stuff that is long overdue flinging.
There is, of course, nostalgia attached to watching a show that first aired thirty years ago. It is not current. It is not a work of our times. The nineties feel like they were better times than now; in truth they probably weren’t. But spending time out of now through the medium of a good story is a restorative activity.
Cicily, Alaska, as presented in the show provides a different model of how to live well, in community. The natural world is respected, the indigenous community is respected and people find ways through their troubles and adversity to a greater understanding of themselves and others. It seems to me that therein lies a simple recipe for a contented life. I hope we can find a way to make this a reality where we find ourselves now.