You will be broken. You try to flee it, but ultimately you can’t, you can only fritter away your time on the planet. Yes, be prudent, but don’t think you will escape.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

The average man of the 18th century had far less information to process in his lifetime than can be found in the weekend edition of the major newspapers. In times when information is available to us in such quantity it feels important to consider how we might narrow our focus or drown in a sea of real or fake news or just plain drivel.

Too many of us attend to things of no lasting value, consuming hours checking our phones for a glimpse of hope, connection, intimacy. Whilst we are now more informed than ever we appear increasingly to want to tighten our hold over the environments we inhabit. In recent months we have seen how politicians have attempted to capitalise on the notion of difference and otherness to instil the fear of change into communities.

The desire to keep our environments exactly as as they are can lead to our views to become entrenched and give rise to populism.  What we fail to grasp in adopting this way of thinking is that this can lead us to reduce the size of our lives, resist unfamiliar experiences, and fail to incorporate new people in to our circle. Flexibility can often offer us the key to life’s satisfactions. Change offers us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to continue to grow and develop as human beings.

The difficulties we might experience in the black and white thinking of late can be seen as a form of collective trauma. The associated narcissism this demonstrates describes an exaggerated belief in the superiority of the ‘in-group’, be that a gang, religious belief or national pride.  However, underlying these feelings of superiority the group can often feel doubtful about their sense of worth and crave recognition by others. This ‘fragility’ is quite different to having pride in one’s country – in much the same way that a narcissist is quite different from an individual with healthy self-esteem.

The unfortunate side effect of this sort of collective-identity formation, evident in the past few months, is racism and xenophobia. People tend to separate from people that are different from them, connecting with people that are like them, and share their concerns, and vilify the opposition.  This thinking has become palpable the past few months.

It is at times like this when it is worth considering Hemmingway’s notion of how transient our time on this planet is and the relative meaningless of our lives. Perhaps we should reflect that people of all cultures and times have faced the same core issues we face today, although in different ways. The human experience evolves in terms of technique, knowledge, and skills, but it does not change in the basic concerns of our being, in our needs for love and friendship and to work, play and survive.  The same conundrums are forever present, our desire for fulfilment, happiness, success and satisfaction.

Perhaps therapy offers us the opportunity to enter unconsciously into a less agitated and more reflective space to consider our own insecurities and feelings of otherness. In therapy we may consider our tendency to sideline the past as impertinent to the present, only to rediscover how central it is to understanding the driving forces of our world and harnessing them in order to provide for a better future. The quietness and objectivity of the therapeutic dynamic may encourage us to access what we need now more than ever; the less panicky, more resilient sides of ourselves.