The Luxury of an Existential Crisis

As I witness events in the world, feel the sense of overwhelm and helplessness, as I am at a loss of new words to describe the wanton cruelty of what Russia is doing in and to Ukraine, and sometimes feel paralyzed by the feelings I am absorbing, I realize I am having an existential crisis, perhaps even existential dread. This is a luxury not afforded to Ukrainians or to any oppressed peoples in the world.

Last month, I wrote that I am feeling a little frayed around the edges. Now I recognize it is more than that. I am torn between the beliefs I have carried about life and humanity my whole life and the cruel, unprovoked destruction that comes into my news feed from Ukraine every single day. How is it possible that some people are so craven they can carry out these atrocities? It shakes my belief in humanity as my heart aches for the loss of life and heritage.

Far Removed From, Yet Affected By, The Unspeakable Horrors and Violence

In the face of violence and unspeakable horrors, I sit safely in my home in a relatively sleepy corner of the world, knowing my family members and loved ones are also safe in their homes. It seems far removed from the violence and, yet, there is and has been violence here too. Not on the scale of what we are currently witnessing in other parts of the world, but it exists. We just have to think back to the “founding” of my city and province or to how First Nations people who lived here for centuries before Europeans arrived were treated, including almost being annihilated, or early refugees, whether they were Francophone or People of Colour, looking for safety or escaping slavery.

In the Worldview Intelligence work that Jerry and I have created and offer out into the world, we have a framework with Six Dimensions that help us understand and explore worldviews – individual, organizational, country, culture. We draw on neuroscience research to explain human behaviour and motivation.

Violence and Oppression From the Dawn of Time

Through this work I have and an increasing awareness that patterns of violence are deeply embedded in our human history from the dawn of time. There have always been acts of inhumanity, depravity, oppression, greed, power imbalances and the desire or need to conquer or claim the land that others live on and call home. There has always been travesty in the world. There have always been some people who believe they are better than others, subjecting those they think less of to violence and harm. There has always been enslavement of one sort or another, by one people over another.

But How Is It Happening Now?

What seems so shocking now is to look at the sophistication of the cities and communities in Ukraine, knowing the multi-dimensionality of culture enjoyed throughout the country by its citizens. Living life fully, just like we are able to do here in Canada, even in this moment. We saw it in cities before this: Aleppo in Syria and Sarajevo in Bosnia are just two examples, not to mention the destruction of cities during the two World Wars. And we have seen many examples of genocide whether we choose to look or not – The Holocaust, East Timor, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda, Hutus, Rohingya, Uygehur and this is not even an exhaustive list.

When Jerry and I walk the streets of Paris, the city is sophisticated – culturally, socially, economically. It is a juxtaposition to the violent history of the city going back to its origins in 8000 BC to more recently when during the French Revolution in 1788-89, the Guillotine was invented and blood ran in the streets. At that time, Paris was considered sophisticated. Was the wholesale violence and death shocking to citizens who experienced it then? To those who witnessed it or heard of it?

Being Interconnected Means We Cannot Do Harm to Another Without Also Harming Ourselves

We are all interconnected – whether we believe it to be so or not. We cannot do harm to another without also doing it to ourselves. As we are now experiencing, harm cannot be done to another without it affecting us all. We can try to look away, compartmentalize, rationalize or justify, as many Russian people (and others) are doing at the moment, but that does not mean we are not affected. The Russian invaders committing atrocities against Ukrainians will be forever marked by the violence they have wrought, even as the Ukrainian people will carry this new trauma through the ages.

How Does This Stop?

Where is the united voice for peace that can enact that desire and stop the violence? Many of us are advocating for it, some more powerful than others. NATO countries are applying ever expanding economic sanctions. Countries are shipping arms, lethal and non-lethal military supplies to Ukraine. And it is not yet enough. There does not seem to be a military course of action that the powers that be are willing to take. Stopped by the fear of a nuclear war, that Putin might wage anyway once he finishes the destruction of Ukraine? Those of us not close to the decision making can only speculate.

Threads of Humanity Connected Through a Veritable Life Force

So, I, we, sit back and grieve for the world through our aching hearts. I take in as much as I can, to know and witness what is happening in a place I have no personal connection to other than through the threads of humanity, consciousness, love, compassion, and the veritable life force that runs through us all. Like so many, I have been absorbing the violence, the emotions, the helplessness – sometimes more than I realize it. It weighs heavy in my consciousness and on my soul. That life goes on here and in so many other places, almost as if this is not happening, seems unbelievable and unbearable. How is it even possible?

And I realize, even through this existential dread, that it is my duty to do what I can, even as that means living my life fully where I am. Showing up completely for my family, loved ones, friends and neighbours. Spilling my passion into the work that Jerry and I do, continuing to develop it so that whoever is touched by it can be inspired to their own hope and courage, to build trust and relationship in the places they have influence – which will likely never be at the highest levels of government. But it matters. As many people as possible operating within their spheres of influence matters.

What We Are Called To Do – Creating Ripples Where We Can

There is nothing less that we are called to do, to honour the fierceness and perseverance of the Ukrainian people, as they stand for what is right, as they fall in the streets of their cities and towns, knowing they stand for all of democracy, for all of us who value democracy. Would I be able to take the stand that they are taking if it was my city and country that was threatened? Would you? I can only hope so – as the world stands by witnessing atrocities we have said many times should never happen again.

Love, Hope, Community and Connection – Also Through the Dawn of the Ages

Just as there has always been violence and atrocities, so too there has always been valour, dignity, hope, love, respect, integrity, kindness, community and collaboration – through the dawn of ages. It may not seem like much, but we need to keep shining a light on this. As Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” We have many such “stones” at hand. Let’s use all we can, create as many ripples as is possible.

There are many groups active here in Atlantic Canada, across the country and around the world who are actively working to support Ukrainians. A friend of ours is in Poland at the border, welcoming refugees into her open arms. If we cannot be there, we can donate to reputable organizations – money or supplies. Take in a family if you can until they can get on their feet. Discover other methods of support.

Hang on to your loved ones – life is both fierce and fragile. We never know when it will change. If this is what we have in this moment, it is the most important thing. I have very young grandchildren. When I was having my babies, there was a question about whether it was moral to bring new children into the world. Now I am 60. People still ask that question, yet my children are having children and I am deeply moved and grateful. They are inspiration and hope as well as the reminder to stay present to the moment.

Live Life Fully in Honour of Those Who Can’t

We cannot always see what the solutions for our challenges are as they may not have been invented yet. It would be a disservice to the people of Ukraine, who are fighting for their homeland and for democracy and freedom, with their lives, to not live fully, to not have heart, to lose sight of our humanity and of theirs. So take the opportunities and chances available to you – do it for yourself and do it for the people who do not have this luxury at the moment. Жива Україна! (Live Ukraine!)