On war, virtue signaling, and being on “the right side” of history.

Protest against the war in Ukraine Photo by Moa Alexandersson

I was born in 1997 in a small country in Eastern Europe called Bulgaria. And all my life, I’ve lived with the notion that war is something that either happens in history books or in foreign lands far away from where I am. War in Europe seemed impossible, a thing of the past.

That’s why all my thoughts about the future always revolved around dreams, goals, and wishful thinking about the way my life would go. I thought of getting a better career, writing a book, starting a family, fighting for a better place to live, striving to improve every day. It seemed all my life that the path to leading the kind of life I want is right in front of me, and it’s only up to my dedication, determination, and desire to achieve it. And I confidently say the same applies to all my peers. Most of the people I know under the age of 30 don’t really care about politics or international affairs. All we really think about is our lives — what makes us happy, sad, our aspirations and dreams.

The Impossible Happened — a War in Europe

And then the 24th of February happened. I remember waking up at 6:30 in the morning for my daily workout, turning off the “Sleep mode” on my phone, and watching the notifications come in. Reading the first headline, “Russia invades Ukraine,” and tentatively clicking on the article. Then going through the motions of my morning routine — wash my face, do skincare, do make-up, sit in front of the computer, start the workday.

I remember the kind of conversations I had with my friends that day — “Why is the war happening?”, “Could we have something to prepare for it?” and the most important one of all — “Are we in danger too?”. It’s incredible how the human perspective shifts once a significant event occurs. All my worries from the day before — about money, my parents, and my job- seemed irrelevant at once. I was lucky, and I knew it. Despite having struggles, I still lived in a place where my tasks for the day consisted of doing my job, reading a book, seeing friends, and going to the gym. I’m not thinking about how to save my life or what would happen to my family — I’m lucky.

Those few days were filled with frustrations about why this was happening, who was letting it happen. Also filled with hatred towards all the politicians who routinely find new ways to f*** up our lives. But most of all, they were filled with sorrow — a sort of mellow sadness about how people are having their lives ripped from under their feet, about how life in both Ukraine and Russia will never be the same for the ordinary person like you and me. About how unfair it all is.

Then, as with everything else, you start forgetting the topic little by little as time goes by. You become less scared, less paranoid — you begin to live with this idea of a war in Europe, which becomes a part of your daily life. It’s remarkable how quickly we adapt.

But throughout all this, I feel like people, especially young ones, need a reminder. War is not a football game. You can’t treat it like one by picking one side and supporting it. Let me tell you something — politics is a dirty game. This war happened because of politicians and their decisions — from all sides, Ukraine, the United States, the European Union, Russia — all play in this game and all make strategic moves to achieve a particular economic or political result. None of those leaders thinks about the good of their people, even the Gen-Z idol — Zelensky.

So, if you’re going to stand up for someone during this war, stand up for the ordinary, everyday people in both Ukraine and Russia. For the ones who will lose their homes and family members to war and for the ones that will lose jobs, a sense of purpose, a connection to the rest of the civilized world. Feel sorry for the ones getting killed in Ukraine and the ones getting jailed and beaten up in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. But, please don’t support Macron or the EU or NATO or Zelensky, or Biden, or You-Know-Who. Those people don’t deserve your sympathy or support — the things they deserve will get in due time.

Being on the “Right Side of History”

This opinion that I’ve just shared will probably be considered wildly unpopular — “How can you defend the Russians?!? How can you not love Zelensky — he’s a hero”.

As I already mentioned, both Gen-Z and Millenials are generations of people who predominantly don’t care too much about international affairs. Yes, we might be activists for the LGBTQ+ community, for climate change, against racism, and for equal rights. But when it comes to significant geopolitical conflicts like China and the United States, Russia and NATO — we have no clue whatsoever. And so, we’re easily influenced. We turn on the news, and they tell us, as Kamila Harris put it — “Ukraine is a small country in Europe. Russia is also a country in Europe, but bigger and more powerful. Russia attacked Ukraine, and that’s bad”. That sort of explanation about political affairs might be sufficient for a 7-year-old kid. Still, it’s absolutely inadequate for adults and vastly simplifies a very complex problem. However, that doesn’t mean that people didn’t run with it. During the first days of the war, we saw protests all over the world in support of Ukraine, we saw celebrities posting the Ukrainian flag, we even saw an influencer write a poem to Putin. And then we started doing what we do best — canceling things. And it was time to cancel all things Russia.

It all began with videos of people pouring Russian vodka down the drain, burning Russian passports, throwing away items with the Russian flag on them. Then universities started banning Dostoevsky from getting taught. Following that, Russian athletes and national and club teams were kicked out of all international competitions. Then famous brands started closing their stores in Russia, Netflix removed its services from the country, etc. In a matter of days, we canceled an entire nation and ALL of its people — because let me tell you something, it’s not Vladimir Putin who eats McDonald’s and watches Netflix. It’s the average Russian teenager. And so, the people you punished are actually those who carry no blame at all.

Doing all of those things is a mistake. Isolating Russians from the rest of the civilized world will only do harm and no good. First, it will make those people feel hated, resented, punished for something they never did. Then, it will cut their ties to actual information, to art that’s not filled with propaganda, and will move them farther away from “our” way of thinking. And that will ensure that the next generations will grow up feeling like they were hated by the rest of the world and pushed to the point of no return. And this kind of thing happened once before — in Germany, after the end of World War I, and let me tell you, what came after it, we likely don’t want a repeat of. We need a Russia connected to the Western world with close cultural ties with Europe, not another extremist and powerful country full of political lies and crazy propaganda. Remember that.

I know that many people reading this blog post will probably feel offended by my position. By the lack of devotion to the cause of the day. And that’s normal — we all live in the times of “virtue signaling.” If I don’t support a popular cause or I don’t fully think what everyone else believes they do, then I’m not on “the right side of history,” and so I’m wrong.

We All Are Caught Up in “Virtue Signaling”

Nowadays, both companies and people are obsessed with virtue signaling. Currently, it’s putting the Ukrainian flag in your profile picture and writing some message in support of Zelensky before it was putting the rainbow flag on your profile and sharing your support for the LGBTQ+ community. Last year it was the black box for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. All of those details are used as a way to show that we’re on the “right side,” that we believe in the “truth.”

Brands and celebrities do the same — the moment a potent social issue arises, they’re all quick to jump on the bandwagon and support it. And if a major company doesn’t do so, it becomes the black sheep. Of course, this is all connected to cancel culture — you can’t hold an opinion that’s different out of fear of being deemed a “bad” person, someone on the “wrong side of the fence.” There are two main options — either go with the commonly shared opinion or remain quiet. Anything else will lead to you getting “canceled,” and so we rarely see different views anymore. People are so black and white nowadays that they don’t even accept the idea of someone simply having a different opinion. Instead, thinking differently inherently means you’re a terrible person, so you have to get canceled.

This constrained way of thinking that puts us in categories will be the downfall of our generation if we don’t stop pushing the narrative further. The fact that someone holds a different opinion from you doesn’t mean they’re stupid, evil, or wrong. Being unable to accept a variety of perspectives limits the way you perceive the world and makes us look like sheep — we either follow the leader or get cast away.

We all need a good reminder that there are very few questions humans ask that have only one correct answer. Life is not a mathematical problem — there’s not only one right answer. Not being able to accept and listen to the opinions of others is childish and stupid. Cutting someone out of your life and deeming they’re a bad person just because they don’t believe in all the same things you do is essentially closing yourself off to any other world view other than your own and falling into the trap of tunnel vision. Only hearing and seeing the same opinions that you hold. This phenomenon is called confirmation bias — forming a way of thinking and then finding ways to confirm that your opinion is the right one.

Just Be Better

With all that present in our lives — virtue signaling, confirmation bias, and cancel culture, navigating our daily life without the influence of all three is extremely difficult. We all want to be loved and appreciated. We all want that pat on the back for supporting the right cause. Standing up to all that can lead to fights with friends and family members. If you’re famous, it can damage your career and reputation. However, it should be done. We cannot afford to live in such a one-sided culture any longer. We cannot afford to not hear each other and just shout from different aisles. We have to consider that we have one common goal — the good of humanity and lead conversations from there.

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