Some years ago I read a piece by Hugh Mackay, an Australian sociologist and social commentator, in which he told the story of a young woman who was studying Honours English Literature at Sydney University. She was expected to win the medal for top student of the year in her faculty.
The parallels with my own daughter's situation were remarkable so I was particularly interested in the story.
The story concluded with the young woman committing suicide a month before her final exams.
Mackay went on to ask "How could someone so obviously talented and with a shining future be so uninterested in life that she ended it."
He suggested that the only reason that made any sense at all was that the young woman believed that the world was in such a parlous state that life wasn't worth living even for one as privileged as she.
He concluded by saying that he believed that this could only be so because everyone in any position of authority or influence with whom she had had contact had always said that "The world is going to hell in a basket" and that this had led her to the view that nothing good would ever happen.
He blamed all of my generation for this totally negative view of the world and exhorted us all to mend our ways and to ensure that we always exhibit a positive view of the world especially when talking to the young.
I told my daughter this story and promised her that I would always remember what Mackay had said and that I would never leave a conversation about the world going to hell in a basket without finishing on a positive note.
She asked what I would say and I told her "I believe someone with vision and charisma will come along who will win our votes and who will put things right and lead us to a better world." Her reply was "Oh, Dad, you don't subscribe to the Messiah thing, do you? That's so old hat."
I asked her what she would have said to the young woman and she said "I'd have told her that she had an obligation to keep the flame alive".
This was the first time my highly educated daughter had suggested that she knew better than her father, but she was quite right. Her view was much more appropriate and more likely to produce good results than mine.
I still stick to my promise to end conversations on a positive note but I now use a somewhat different argument.
For 10,000 years or so we have been developing our civilization. We used to live in caves and be afraid of sabre-tooth tigers and of the dark. We now live in a highly developed world with lots of labour-saving devices. None of us would want to live the lives our parents or our grandparents lived. While there have been "dark ages" for some of the time, the overall results of our civilization have been progress to a better world. Clearly humanity is capable of overcoming any and all problems and life gets better as time goes by. We only have to believe in a better future and to "keep the flame alive".