Anchor in the poly-crisis

Max Jeganathan laments the overwhelming nature of the world right now. Wars, disasters, political upheaval. We need an anchor in the storm.

President John F. Kennedy had a small plaque on his White House desk that read, “The sea is so big and my boat is so small”. A scan of today’s headlines confirms its percipience. A world in poly-crisis makes for a stormy outlook and a growing sense of helplessness.

In Gaza and Ukraine, military conflicts are at a stalemate. Civil unrest simmers from Myanmar to New Caledonia. Closer to home, domestic violence seems intractable, housing affordability appears unmanageable, polarisation feels unstoppable, and inflation is proving stickier than a caramel candy on a hot day. The world seems – to paraphrase the UN Secretary General – more “unhinged” than ever.

Conventional wisdom often responds with a call to self-reliance. Armed with an ever-growing artillery of life-hacks, technology and self-empowerment, the storms – we are told – can be beaten, or at least dodged. However, we repeatedly find ourselves bamboozled. Recessions, wars, interest rates, confusion, anxiousness, social dysfunction…and the rest. The storms are everywhere.

Perhaps our strategy of self-reliance needs supplementation. Ships and boats have elaborate storm-tackling equipment. Everything from anti-lightning systems to marine radar to gyroscopic stabilisers – all to help a boat keep its bearings. However, a simpler option to hold your position in shaky waters – if you’ve got one strong enough – is an anchor. Anchors cannot guarantee safety in a storm, but they offer a touchpoint of security that somehow transcends the turbulence.

Fittingly, the plaque on JFK’s desk was an extract from a prayer, not a self-help book. Its full text reads: “O God, your sea is so big and my boat is so small”. It reflects the ancient wisdom that in the most tempestuous of times, anchoring ourselves to something beyond the storm might be our best bet. Our world may seem unhinged, but perhaps the deeper crisis is that it’s unanchored.


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