Joy in spite of everything

So the question was: Should we abolish 2016? It’s tempting as the world seems to be spiralling out of control and all the cool people are dying. 

In the African village I’ve made my home, I don’t watch television and I don’t get a newspaper delivered. Like many, I get much of my news via the internet these days and if I were to believe my social media feeds I could be mistaken for believing the world is full of joyful, philosophical, highly intelligent people sharing brilliant solutions for making the world a better place. I can never understand why some people complain about Facebook: “it’s just people sharing what they had for breakfast.” It doesn’t have to be! Just surround yourself with interesting, joyful, philosophical and intelligent people and see what happens.

Perhaps this confirmation bias is why so many were shocked by recent political events. We’re so surrounded by like-minded people with similar views, it’s hard to imagine an alternative universe. And presumably the same will be true for people with the opposite view.

Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see how building walls, throwing those different to us out of our countries, mocking people or hating those less fortunate than ourselves is going to make the world a better and safer place for our children. And to trust angry populaces to make wise decisions…well, that seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. This isn’t to say I think people are stupid, but for the most part they don’t have the time or the inclination to weigh up the facts. It seems to me that people make their minds up first and then seek reasons afterwards, as opposed to the other way round. Surely, the more you divide, the greater the problems you are creating for the future. It’s not rocket science. If you bomb a country, then the people need to escape somewhere else and they’re probably not going to be too happy, but divert the masses with consumerism and hatred of the vulnerable and the powerful can do as they please. 

Despite the many joyful, philosophical and intelligent people that I meet and know, it seems to me - more than at any time I can recall - that the world isn’t working. Differences are growing between the developed and the less-developed world, between the secular West and the Muslim world, between the haves and the have-nots. We’re in the era of globalisation, but despite all the talk of diversity, we are more than ever trapped within our own identities and differences. Instead of confidently celebrating our riches, we seem to prefer fearful conflict.

I believe there’s a conflict of perception in the world. Perceptions might result from ignorance but they often have more to do with feelings, with emotions and convictions. And we lack confidence in ourselves, in others and in the future. Instead, we fill our hearts and minds with fear, with doubt, with distrust. Rather than celebrate our differences, we use them to define ourselves, distracting ourselves from our ignorance, our fears and our doubts.

As I see it, the only way forward is to be confident in who we are, to question, to constructively criticise and to embrace complexity - issues are rarely black and white, despite how our media and politicians may dumb them down. 

We need to be modest and to understand that we all look at the world through our own viewpoints. There’s so much noise in the modern age, but in the end, the world is changed by the examples we set, not by the opinions we give. 

Everything – our ideas, our perceptions, our religions and our imaginations – is just our points of view. Once we can realise and accept this, we don’t have to doubt everything. Instead, we could be enthusiastic and curious about the limitless number of other points of view out there, all perceiving exactly the same world in their own ways. We will for sure find many similarities and shared values.

That’s how I try and will continue to try to live my life - with joy in spite of everything. Despite the doom and gloom merchants, I’ll try and present that example and no, I don’t want to abolish this year -  there are too many joyful, philosophical and intelligent people doing brilliant things.

Simon Fenton is the author of Chasing Hornbills (Sept 2016) and Squirting Milk at Chameleons (Jan 2015).

He became known as the Accidental African, but you can read more about how very deliberate his life has become at


Published on
November 17, 2016