Jon Stewart: “The greatest threat to our mental health is probably loss of perspective, the idea that the things we face today are somehow uniquely threatening.”

From Brian Stelter on CNN’s Reliable Sources:

It’s easy to read a day’s worth of news and come away feeling rather pessimistic. So let me present a counter-argument from none other than Jon Stewart.

Stewart, of all people, is still an optimist. David Remnick asked him why during the closing session of the New Yorker Festival the other day. Some of Stewart’s other comments from the festival have been picked up and picked apart — like his remarks about “cancel culture” and his observation that “we live in a relentless culture” — but his words about “perspective” have not. So here they are.

“The environment is falling apart, democracy is in peril,” Remnick said, and the pandemic is endangering both physical and mental health, so “where resides your optimism?”

“In the resilience of the human species to move forward,” Stewart said. “I came of age in the late 60s and early 70s when the best people this country had to offer were all killed. And the Vietnam War raged and the President of the United States was a liar and it exposed certain realities of power structures. And so I don’t look at today as uniquely flawed or uniquely troubling or uniquely — I look at it as all of the time periods that have come to pass. My parents came of age in the Depression and World War II. So the greatest threat to our mental health, I think, is probably loss of perspective, and nostalgia, and the idea that the travails we face today are somehow uniquely threatening.”

Stewart said he was not minimizing what we face right now, “but the point being, like, resilience is a powerful human characteristic… Adaptability and resilience and the willingness to sacrifice and to do good and to elevate and to illuminate don’t ever leave us and they haven’t ever left us. And they’re not leaving us now. And who knows what incredible inventions and progress and intelligence will spring forth from this s**t show. But it will, and it will.” We the people are “complicated and dangerous and amazing and lovely and horrible,” he said.

“And all the things that we do to progress, often times in unseen ways, come back to destroy,” Stewart said, which made me think of Facebook, to name one of many examples. “But that’s not the intention,” he said. “The intention is generally to better, and we are in a moment where our best intentions feel like they’re on the back foot, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve dissipated or disappeared. And when they’re on the back foot, somebody will come for it and put them on the front foot and we’ll start to make headway.”

Stewart’s point about perspective is crucial. It’s deceptively easy, when logged onto “social” media, to lose perspective. Take the recent afternoon when I was scrolling through Twitter and seeing the words “Civil War” trending, reflecting deep-rooted fears of a country ripping itself apart. The virtual-world dialogue was scary. And it shouldn’t be discounted. But I was in Philly that afternoon, and no one in the real-world was taking up arms, they were just celebrating the Eagles win and enjoying the day off. Online, I thought, we see all the problems. Offline, we see the solutions…

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