I almost always end up feeling overwhelmed after reading or listening to the news. I want to “fix it” all myself: end the kidnapping and trafficking of children (or any human for that matter), end poverty, relieve illness and suffering, stop all violence and hate, and abolish addictions. That’s my to-do list should anyone give me a magic wand.
But, of course, I can’t fix any of it myself, and that leaves me feeling helpless. Lydia Yuknavitch (author of The Chronology of Water and the just-released The Small Backs of Children) captured this anguish in a Facebook post:
i wonder who we have become…”sixth mass extinction” doesn’t seem to stop anyone from enjoying their iced lattes or packing the theaters and pools. endless murder of people of color doesn’t seem to put a dent in our summer plans. i wonder, are we waiting for a super hero or something? … what will it take for us to realize the problem is in us too? every. single. one. of. us. it’s not “out there” exclusively. It’s also IN us all: the problem as well as the possible radical change…my life looks different to me lately. i was thinking about changing it and wondering what that would look like–maybe writing and teaching my heart out in an effort to wake a few people up is too puny. maybe recycling like a madwoman and owning an electric car and not buying shit made by slave laborers is too quiet. maybe pouring my hopes and fears into making art that agitates is still not enough. i’m thinking hard about this so i thought i’d mention it in case i’m not the only one willing to. i used to think things like, “well, the universe has always shown me a path…” but maybe that old school zen hippie feminist openness is also a form of passivity. … i wonder what we are waiting for. the bullet to come? –Lidia Yuknavitch on Facebook on June 20, 2015.
I’m always wondering what I can do, how I can at least avoid contributing to another’s suffering, and how I can ease others’ suffering.
Then, I read “The Greatest Good” by Derek Thompson at The Atlantic. He blends a compelling personal story with research into how an individual can have the most direct positive impact on another’s life with a financial donation.
The entire article is worth a few reads, but it was encouraging to learn just how much impact one person’s efforts can have. One man, for example, raised enough money to pay for life-long treatments for a child severely burned in a fire. She’s now 18, and he now runs one of the most effective relief agencies helping prevent malaria.
But here’s the part that really hit me: When compared to the world’s poor, most middle-class Americans are in the wealthy 1% and giving up a small portion of income can make a huge impact when re-distributed to the right place/person:
“If you earn more than $52,000 per year, then, speaking globally, you are the 1 percent,” MacAskill writes. Some research suggests that the doubling one’s income, whether you make $500 a year or $50,000 a year, roughly raises one’s happiness by a similar amount. This implies that if a middle-class American family were to transfer one percent of its income directly to an Indian rice farmer, his estimated happiness would double.
It’s not like each concerned individual can be paired with each individual needing help. But, the article challenged my feeling of helplessness. I’m still pondering all of this, but here’s where I’m at right now:
I really must not discount the impact of one person’s actions over time.
I’m back to recognizing the power of daily practice, only this time, instead of art, I’m seeing it in terms of how we live our lives.
Say I live to be 100 years old (my goal). In that time, who knows how much money I might be able to donate? How much plastic I might be able to keep out of the waste stream. How much water, and electricity, and gas I might conserve. What leaders I might support with a vote or dollars. What information or ideas I might have learned the hard way and be able to pass on so someone else lives a little better a little earlier in life. What might I be able to share? How many people might I meet and befriend, so more of us feel accepted and less alone?
Although I can’t “fix it,” it can’t hurt for me to live as gently and responsibly as possible, can it? And, I suppose I’ll forever be adapting what “gently” and “responsibly” mean as I learn more and learn to do better.
True–some Really Big Actions are needed right now to address violence, racism, sexism, addiction, greed, poverty.
But one person’s actions do matter. And how many more individuals are in the world doing the same? How many in the world are doing so much more? —That’s the news station I need: reporting from around the world on groups and individuals doing their best to improve the planet and people’s lives. Is there such a channel?
What do you all think? What do you do if you end up feeling helpless? What ways do you contribute to the “good of all”? Or how do you lessen your impact on the earth or economy? Is there a website or publication or news channel you go to to get inspired? To learn what others are doing?