I teach World History Advanced Placement high school students and we have some deep conversations about the world as it is unfolding or should I say refolding. The times seem to go in cycles where stresses mount and people go crazy often supporting insane people with insane ambitions. When we look at history, we tend to glamorize narcistic sociopaths like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte. They are now historical national heroes celebrating the great days when Italy, France, and Mongolia rose to world prominence. Even Hitler gains some praise these days but people do it carefully and only to the right people who are sympathetic. Even this want-to-be-great insane man, Vladmir Putin, gains praise from some people who would like to be just like him. Then you have another narcissist like Donald Trump who really understands the system and wants to use these misguided, misinformed people for his own personal power and financial gain. And then you have the Little Putins (small people) who do something to protest (Freedom Convoy) and find they have gained some attention and decide to attack Victoria (of all places) and verbally attack Dr. Bonny (of all people) just because some angry people looking for a leader with a cause cheer them on.
And why? Why do these people find the support of a large percentage of the population? It is the times. Great stress. In pre-war Germany it was the great depression and massive inflation and unemployment. Today it is Covid, the changing economic dynamics, and climate change. It is usually the young men who feel the brunt of these times and react like young men do, get angry, and look for a leader and a cause to express their frustrations. Then you have a society that does not have the strength, courage, or will do anything about it. Then you have a narcistic leader who comes along and rides the waves of discontent and anger. If this leader also has an antisocial personality it can lead to violence, and if he (it is always a male it seems) has a position of power, thousands or even millions of people will die.
Now that I have painted a perfectly depressing situation, I can’t just leave you there, can I? So here is what I believe we can do about it.
1. Those of us who care can unite in a common cause with those brave souls from the Ukraine and the protesters from Russia. It is time to get brave and get involved.
2. As individuals and as a nation, we can combat disinformation and hate propaganda. First we have to seek and distinguish real information from disinformation. We need to be able to find, understand, and communicate the truth.
3. As a society and as individuals we can become compassionate. That means doing what we can to alleviate the sufferings of those who are discontent and to encage with them in compassionate discourse. “I understand what you are saying and why you feel this way. This is my understanding of …”