Something Has Got To Be Better Than Nothing, Right?

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?

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About TRISTA

I write and illustrate stationery, cards, customized snail mail (yes, you can receive handwritten and illustrated letters in your mail!!), coloring books, and more. My business name is "Carrot Condo." After teaching English for 15 years (gasp!), I am now a full-time parent and part-time artist slowly, but steadily, building a creative business and life. You can read more at carrotcondo.com or see my products at etsy.com/shop/CarrotCondo. Thanks for your interest and support!!
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12 Responses to Something Has Got To Be Better Than Nothing, Right?

  1. Chelsea says:

    I have felt similar lately – a lot of reading articles and shaking my head in sadness, and wondering how I as one little person could do anything. When I enter my classroom some of that usually lifts, given the diversity of various sorts my school is lucky enough to have, and how willing my students are to tell me when they feel affected by what I’m teaching.

    • TRISTA says:

      Yes, with teaching, you know you are doing something useful and helpful for people that lives on and grows beyond your time with students–especially if they’re telling you they’re affected by your teaching. I also found the courage and enthusiasm of my students inspiring. Maybe we just need a way to collect all this good will and effort so we can see what everyone else is doing and feel less alone and helpless.

  2. Alex Hurst says:

    Helpless is a good word for how I’ve been feeling. In college I used to sponsor a child in India. It was very rewarding, but I couldn’t do it when I moved because I wasn’t sure about my financial stability. Looking at the news lately (and I only get it in bite-sizes because only the biggest stories make it over here), I find myself not only helpless, but depressed, and ashamed. Ashamed of my country, my skin color, humanity. It’s even more pronounced living in a place where 99.8% of the population is non-white. Japan is a gun-free country, with strict recycling systems and dedication to peace–until last year, it was in their constitution that they would never go to war.

    I decided young that this world is getting too dark and too dangerous. Like a lot of people around the world in my age group, I’ve decided to not have children of my own. I’d rather sponsor, or adopt, if it comes to that. Bleak, and I hesitated in posting at all… but in this, I guess, I feel like we’ve moved beyond the actions of one. If many do the same, yes, it counts, but for the world to change, some major psychological changes are going to have to happen to all of us, too.

    • TRISTA says:

      I think your last point is similar to what Lidia posted. While I’m finding encouragement in the responses people are sending me about individual effort, you’re right that more is needed. Then again, I’m not so sure … I keep thinking that if we individuals knew about all the others caring, contributing, curing, and trying to “fix it,” the collected effort might be enough to culminate in a wave of change. I’m certainly glad to know you’re out there, Alex.

      • Alex Hurst says:

        Feeling a little more positive today with the Supreme Court ruling. I think we all will eventually get there, but sometimes herd mentality can be a detriment (someone else will do it)…. I guess it just depends on the urgency!

  3. Rose L. says:

    All my life I have wanted to fix everything. As a child, when I heard about people being cruel to animals I could not understand how anyone could do such things. Mom remembers me weeping about it and then saving my pennies and nickels to give to the animal shelter to help. I even went door-to-door in my neighborhood with a plastic bucket asking for change to help the poor animals. When I was older and learned of things happening in other countries (like Bangladesh) I would weep and not understand how things like that could happen.
    Mom would always tell me that I could not save the world but I could do small things.
    So I have. The donations of money, food, school supplies, goats, seed, water, etc. all added together with others does make a difference. My piece of sand with every other individuals builds dunes and does matter. i cannot save the world but I can give my part.

    • TRISTA says:

      Oh, Rose, I love the “piece of sand” metaphor. I think you’re right, and maybe as individuals we won’t see the dune, but no reason not to keep contributing our grains of sand. I also think that many of us “out grow” that childhood empathy you described because it’s so painful. I remember being kind of glad when people tried to talk me out of caring so much, telling me, “you think too much,” and I kind of wanted an excuse to let it all go and “just live.” I’m glad you never lost your deep and immediate empathy; people like you help people like me get back to that place, even if it hurts a bit.

  4. Cristina says:

    This post really hit home for me. I do so often feel the anguish of all the suffering in the world and, like you, I long to fix it with one wave of that magic wand. Impossible. What is possible is to do what I can, where I can, right now, today, each day, and to contribute wisely to the organizations that do the heavy lifting.
    As for a good news station—I discovered Ode Magazine a few years back, which morphed into The Intelligent Optimist. Its focus is on the people, places, and organizations around the world coming up with solutions, finding answers, and implementing actions to steer our course toward a better world.
    Thank you for this post, Trista. It makes me feel connected to you and, through your writing, connected to the community of good people who care about increasing the good for everyone.

    • TRISTA says:

      Thank you, Cristina — this blog is helping me feel more connected, too. Just knowing others are agonizing AND trying to take part in solutions makes me feel closer to optimistic and a lot less alone. I am going to look up The Intelligent Optimist. This might be just the thing I was looking for. Thanks!!

  5. sschuerr says:

    Your post was recommended to me by WordPress. I’m enjoying it. I also would like to study your posts so mine can be better. We are all about what to do to have happy marriages and making this world a better place. Serving with many organizations has enriched our lives. I’d like to subscribe to your post. I need to know how to link. My blog is entitled http://www.lifewithlarry.org

  6. TRISTA says:

    Hi, “Life With Larry”! I will check out your blog very soon. Your comment reminds me of one from a Facebook friend I’ll share in a future post, but the gist of it was–make your part of the world, no matter how small or big, as kind and beautiful and helpful to others as you can, and if most of us do that, the world should be a kinder and grander place. (You can click on “email me new posts” to subscribe to my blog, if you want to. I don’t know if that button shows up in the mobile view … )

  7. Pingback: Can Beauty Save The World? I Hope So, But I Have My Doubts. | All But The Kitchen Sink

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