The Ripple Effect: Nothing is futile, so long as we embrace the ugliness

Here’s a glimpse into the past: around two and a half years ago, I’m sitting at my computer, wracking my brain for a column idea, with half-baked concepts scribbled down on a piece of paper next to me. When one idea finally, feebly pops into my head, I immediately dash off an email to my opinion editor and hit ‘send.’

Or, well, I almost hit ‘send.’ My hand hovers over my keyboard. My eyes flick to the newest notification on my phone showcasing the latest point of contention in American politics.

“Who’s actually going to be reading a world news column when American politics is on fire?” I wonder.  

Now, after around 30 columns created in slapdash scrambles over the past few years, here I am, typing out the last Ripple Effect I’ll write for The Epitaph. And along the way, I’ve realized this: no, it’s not just America that’s on fire; the whole world is sort of turning into kindling.

At the same time, here’s another thing I’ve realized: no, we can’t lose faith in the world.

Let me backtrack a bit and tell you my favorite word in the English language is “pulchritude.” It’s an absolute abomination of a word, a hideous Frankenstein derivation of something in Latin; it stumbles off the tongue with total unease — and it means “beauty.” That’s exactly it; the world is preposterous pulchritude. It folds in on itself, contradicts itself, but is still, sometimes, beautiful.

Alternatively, embrace the ugly ridiculousness — the kind there is no beauty in but is a weird little kernel of reality nonetheless. We can’t expect planet Earth to always be like a majestic, slow-motion documentary backed by an uplifting symphony, and that’s alright. It’s still hilarious to see where we’ve tripped over ourselves in the process, like the mysterious Garfield-shaped phones that washed ashore on French beaches for thirty years, the product of our sort-of-awe-inspiring ability to baffle ourselves.

Yet neither can we settle into complacency, poking fun at our own mistakes without taking a stand to change them. Take, for instance, the looming matter of climate change, in which we have until 2030 to avoid sealing our fates. World carbon dioxide levels have hit levels that haven’t been seen since before humans appeared on the planet, causing plants and animals to die out, ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise. These things are happening right now, problem by problem piling up — in fact, the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, is sinking so fast that plans have been made to move the capital to a different city.

Is this futility, to expect a turnaround by the time I’m 29? I’ve written about the rise of the far right in governments across the world, the attitudes about climate change taken by world leaders, the seemingly overpowering sense of disunity and hatred. It almost seems unrealistic to expect some sort of change on any of these fronts.

But, plenty of things are unrealistic. Think back to how the first photo of a black hole was unveiled barely a month ago. It’s an image that, maybe even a decade ago, would’ve appeared impossible to generate, but people went and did it anyway. After all, what are humans but those who outrageously flout expectations — all the way back to when mammals managed to outlive dinosaurs?

We can defy expectations once again, now, but what we first have to do is recognize and accept what we need to defy, and band together. There’s no shame in admitting you’re still afraid of things that go bump in the night. We all are. It’s the fundamental fear of the sound of the future knocking, unknown and unwanted in the security blanket we’ve pulled over our heads.

But denying that we have problems is a problem in of itself. Denying those problems the right to take hold of our lives, however, is a strategy.

I’ve often joked to friends and family that I should just rename this column “The Democracy Column,” considering how much I’ve harped on about, well, democracy. But I still maintain that the choices we make — firstly, and most importantly, the choice to make use of our voice — are more important now than ever.

It’s not that this is the only turning point in our history, right here, right now, but that every second, we make little choices that cumulate into bigger things. Everything is a turning point we choose for ourselves.

So make yourself aware of your choices and stay informed, because the world is terrifying and beautiful and waiting on us. The infinite human capacity to baffle ourselves may just trump our paralyzed indecision after all.