How To Stay Sane In An Age Of Division

Stories bring us together, untold stories keep us apart.”

It is no exaggeration to say that we are living in an uncertain time. A time in which we are assailed by threats (seen and unseen), injustice, inequality and unrest. We see suffering and seem to move from one crisis to another. All of this is played out across social media and 24hr news channels. It is inescapable. 

In this short pamphlet Booker Prize nominated Elif Shafak asks how we can stay sane and foster hope, to believe in better in this time and beyond. 

In my last blog post (link here) I discussed how reading and books offered us an opportunity to become more empathetic. This book continues this notion and is packed full of thought provoking insight. 

There is so very much packed into this book but the quote at the start of this review perfectly sums up its central theme. 

Stories, then, allow us to share our experiences and concerns, and in turn allow others to understand us. Without hearing the voices of others Shafak argues that we become dehumanised – particularly if those voices are diverse – because we learn from differences. We as readers can not only learn about others, but also have the opportunity to give voices to those who might otherwise be voiceless. 

On the subject of words and turns of phrase which so delight us bibliophiles there is also a fascinating discussion of the ways in which our definitions of words – words like democracy, normal, selfishness – have changed in these very strange (attempting to avoid that new cliche of unprecedented) times.

The modern world, Safak argues, makes us anxious and angry as we hear our concerns and worries reverberating around our echo chambers. In hearing nothing else this leads to poor mental health and apathy, the latter leaving us unable to make any positive change. Again books can come to our rescue here, valiantly undoing much of those ills done by social media and our repetitive news cycle. 

Reading is the antidote to our world over never-ending information (and misinformation). Cutting through the aforementioned anxiety and anger, before it breeds yet more apathy at the lack of change, which will again cause anxiety …. and so on.

This little book, like all books according to Elif, can offer a great deal of hope. In its pages is a lightness and hope which radiates, like a warming feeling which will flood you and gently remind you that these times we are living in show the potential for change. And for hope. If we can adjust to this new world then what other things are possible? If we understand that we must act for us all, and that our previous normal was not working, what might be possible? Could we seek out voices and stories out there begging to be discovered and use that knowledge to make the world a better place?

At this moment when we return to “normal” and we run the risk of slipping into apathy, as the virus rumbles on but no longer makes the headlines; as we are allowed to socialise more, return to work and education, it is easy to forget that we have lived through something, and this book is a gentle reminder. A reminder that the great and immeasurable ills which this pandemic has brought upon our world (and they are great – their effects will be felt for generations to come) we have also been handed an opportunity to pause and reflect. 

I’m aware that this has rapidly turned into somewhat of a rant or meditation, it’s the effect that this book has had. So I’ll end on a thank you to Profile Books for sending me this gifted copy. 

I’d love to hear what you make of this and if you decide to pick up the book. 

Happy reading folks.

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