How to stay sane in an age of division?

3 min readJan 15, 2022


The Wellcome Trust have a great series of books exploring the complexities of the human condition and one of these is Elif Shafak’s “How to stay sane in an age of division”. I’ve written before on how our hopes and fears are being privatised and as a result, we end up preferring the quick fixes of consuming, because we fear freedom and that even random acts of kindness are consequences of this.

1. Privatising our hopes and fears

We have a discourse that is dominated by political “consumerism (that) cleverly compensates us for the loss of our collective ability to act. Like any form of compensation, it provides us with the rewards that we readily embrace.”

Populist leaders compensate for their lack of collective ability to act by personalising the political and politicising the personal. Rather than devolving power to local communities and democracy, they frame themselves as saviours by an emotional hyper proximity and circumstantial melodrama. Rather than enabling people to take control of their lives and shape a better society together, they frame themselves as the gatekeeper by a blind hyperactivism and instrumentalisation of victims. However, this non-politics is an ideological smokescreen hiding the invisible hand of the market and the paternalist clutch of the state.

2. Spreading the virus of anxiety

Even as humans, we see more and more negative news and information. We are drawn to it to find out how to better protect ourselves from the virus or help us avoid making bad decisions — whether it’s reading about the housing or the labour market. We are also drawn into negative information by our loved ones and networks to find out what’s wrong and to be able to help them.

Evidence shows the more negative information people see, the more they post negative information themselves and this spreads anxiety across social networks and means we end up living in constant anxiety.

Organisations too are increasingly in an emotional state, reacting to events to struggle for their own survival — whether they are shops on the high street or social services, who react to help people in crisis.

3. How do we create consensus?

Creating a consensus has always been a key challenge for democracy. More than ever, the public space is riven by both conflict and stagnation — refusal of the other and refusal of change. And yet, the consensus is evermore critical at a time when difficult decisions need to be made about how to tackle pensions, climate change, national identity, etc. We need a “Welcome in my Back Yard” mindset. We need a joined-up society, but more importantly a join-in society and to do that we need to:




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese