As each year passes, I do my best to resist judging 365 days of wildly disparate events as “good” or “bad.” Life, like most of my literary arguments, is a both/and scenario. I haven’t been spending much time on social media (and, by extension, my “new” web blog) because the wildly fluctuating emotional responses to world events in my feeds were simply too much to absorb. On reflection, I see that my own broken world-view likely inspired me to pursue research on Ciceronian, Stoic, and Nashean versions of cosmographical contemplation last summer. It’s a useful practice that may come in handy now. As our calendar rather arbitrarily turns from one year to the next, it might be helpful to think about how the world looks if we fly up out of the atmosphere and see it from the universe’s perspective. On the one hand, we might think: “Wow! We’re part of something truly special and possibly divine.” OTOH: “Wow! The Roman Empire is a pinpoint” (paraphrasing Cicero), or “Our armies are like ants on a field” (paraphrasing Seneca). During the early modern period, we witness many lamenting the “world turned upside down.”
It is a constant and common trope that has been repeated through the ages. Yet one might also ask “was it ever turned right side up?” I think many of us know, at risk of over-simplifying a complex problem, that our present global turmoil results simply (there, I said it) from humans being humans. It’s been a long time in the making and a long time coming. The new administrations in the US, UK and elsewhere are plainly symptomatic of this evolution.
That said, I suggest we take advantage of this fresh start and think about how one might practice perspective in 2018. Personally, I think a bit of stoicism might help us face up to our reality without over-sentimentalizing problems. We need strength and conviction to move forward with dignity plus, for those of us who are scholars and teachers, to help our students do the same. 2017 was not so different from many other years – there were ups and downs, sure. Moreover, 2018 may not depart much from its predecessor. But it offers an opportunity to find balance, so that we might stay perched – however precariously – on our magnificent globe whichever way it happens to be turned.