What Does Material Global Crisis Mean?

Today someone told me that he thought he needed to talk with someone because the state of our world was making it hard for him to sleep. The ‘idiocy’ of people who didn’t get it the way he did wasn’t helping either. Well, of course, and for sure he is not the only one, given the potential for material crisis all over the place staring us all in the face, while everyone has an opinion, sure that they (and not you if you disagree) are right.

So, what is meant by “material crisis,” the wording used by the World Economic Forum in its Global Risks Report 2024:

As close to three billion people are expected to head to the electoral polls across several economies – including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States – over the next two years, the widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments. Resulting unrest could range from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism.

A material global crisis can have real-world, tangible impact. And here we are already. Our sense of security and social cohesion, our faith in information, institutions, and each other—all in the toilet—with looming economic, resource, environmental, societal, and other implications too big and scary to even imagine.

Moreover, as I have written before when our sense of crisis wasn’t even as bad as it is now, polarization makes people sick.

How Does Polarization Make Us Sick?

First, let us note how Polarization has been on the rise:

Before Harry Truman ran for a full term in 1948, two-thirds of Democrats (68%) and even half of Republicans (50%) approved of his job performance. 

By the time of Richard Nixon in the White House, the gap between his party’s approval of him and the opposition party grew to 47 points.

By Barack Obama’s time, it expanded to 72 points. 

And for Donald Trump, it was 79 points, shrinking only by the slightest of margins to 77 points for Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, mental health is suffering. For some stats on this from the World Health Organization:

Mental health conditions are increasing worldwide.

13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders in last decade (to 2017).

Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year.

Now, here’s my take on the link between polarization and mental health, excerpted from an earlier post on this topic: 

It’s our story. Our central organizing principle. Everybody has one. Everybody needs one to function at all.

Just as the brain regulates body temperature, it regulates and simplifies sensory inputs so our brains don’t explode.

Alright, maybe that’s a bit much, but you all know what too much information feels like. It almost hurts, makes you want to take a nap, or a drink, or eat a bag of cookies, or something.  

It’s too much. Our little brains can’t work with all that, but we need something to work with so, by nature and by nurture, our brains pick and choose us a manageable view of the world and our place in it.

The best story I know to illustrate the point is The Elephant and The Blind Men. Six blind men are told that there is an elephant in the village. They all go to the elephant to ‘see’ with their hands what an elephant is. Each touches a different part of the elephant. Here’s what they said:

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant. 

And then they argued, each convinced that he was right. Because he was – but only partly.

And herein lies the rub that makes us so unwelcoming, if not downright hostile, to that which we cannot ourselves ‘see’. Six different stories, all of them true and only partly true, as many different stories as there are people in the world, one of which is yours.

When people are as stressed as so many are right now with good reason, they may operate in a chronic state of flight, flight, freeze—stress responses that can narrow our perspectives, make us sick, and alienate the very support we need to feel better and safer in the world.

What Might Help?

At the end of our conversation, I heard myself promise my friend that if he relieved himself of the mandate to convince the world to see things as he does, he might very well feel and sleep better—and be better able to do his good in the world. I said, “You do you and let them…” And he smiled.

Here is an exercise that might help to get a grip on how judgy humans can be, especially when stressed.

The Judgment Roomhttps://acrobat.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:9058129f-985d-3b40-9ce3-6f6f3a6985fe

Practice, practice, practicesee what happens, and let us know.



Photo by Freepik

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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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