It’s an age-old fact about the way our brains work: If a tiger is chasing us, we almost certainly run, aided by a surge of adrenaline in our nervous system. We’ve survived as a species—each of us is here now—because those before us who were threatened with death figured out what they had to do to survive.
War and gun violence continue to plague too many of us—in America and around the world—on a daily basis. The great promise of living in the modern world is the opportunity to focus on matters beyond mere survival. And yet, there’s another side to this progress: The reality of our warming planet, the rising oceans, the melting ice, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events—and the accelerating prospects of an altered world that includes dangerously high temperatures, shrinking coastlines, dried rivers and lakes, and once-populated areas becoming uninhabitable.
Conditions like these might be enough to make you run or engage in battle, if the threat feels sufficiently imminent and you have the confidence that running or some other action would lead you to safety. If you lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or in Puerto Rico now with the battering of Hurricane Fiona, the danger of catastrophe was and is no abstraction. Concrete action—fight or flight—is often the difference between life and death.
But many others who believe such perilous realities are many years or decades away assume the luxury to ignore the problem. Perhaps they are counting on the arrival of healthy solutions or meaningful mitigations that will limit the potential scale of disaster. But the failure to act now could make the threat of the “killer tiger” that much more likely to become real.
This week I participated in a conference focused on global futures where issues like this—how must society change, what kind of leadership and government do we need, how do we end dependence on fossil fuels, how do we increase equity and resilience, how do we reduce the spread of violence and hate, what voices must be heard—were front and center. The goal was to develop concrete responses to current and coming dangers. To employ our wit and our will to ensure better futures. I think that requires not only recognizing the threats but also embracing hope.
But the question that lingers for me is how can people be motivated to participate in driving change? That leads me to ask: Are you more motivated by hope or fear? And what spurs one or the other? As you might gather, I think the answer (and how it might influence the work of journalists and other storytellers) could not be more important. I hope this is a question you’ll both answer and share with others.
*Photo by Mayur Joshilkar via Getty Images.