Recently, a friend of mine expressed his frustration about all the problems in the world, and his inability to really solve any of them. I felt his pain. We live in the “outrage” decade. Just read the comments after pretty much any news story, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone is offended about everything. In many instances, that outrage is warranted; the world is full of injustice. This is nothing new.
Perhaps we’re more aware of it all in an age of instant communication, but people have always been mean and selfish, violent and greedy. Thankfully, most of us manage to live as civilized adults—but there are plenty of exceptions. Nature tosses in her share as well, with hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. And then there’s politics. Right.
It’s no surprise we often respond with outrage, but simply feeling outraged doesn’t accomplish anything—except maybe alienate our family and friends. Besides, who wants to live their life full of impotent fury? That’s a great way to raise your stress level, and I bet you end up grouchy, too. Rather, why not be intentional in how you respond? We may not be able to control our feelings, but we can certainly control our attitude and actions.
When confronted with a news story that raises my ire, there are a number of responses I can choose from. The easiest is apathy. I can simply ignore the story. That sounds rather cold-hearted, but it may actually be an appropriate direction to take. Every day, I’m confronted by stories of people dying, often by being murdered. There are always hurting children, ecological disasters, and corruption in both businesses and governments. I simply can’t take it all in. And I shouldn’t. Too much bad news and we become jaded; our mental health demands that we let some of it go.
So, there are some issues that I simply don’t pay attention to. In fact, I ignore most issues. For example, I’m very sad that so much of California is on fire. I used to live there. But my job doesn’t include fighting fires, aiding evacuees, or explaining forest management principles to the government. In this case, my involvement is limited to some quick prayers for the safety of those involved. Do I feel guilty about this? No. That’s because there are a few issues that I do “own” and this isn’t one of them.
I try to focus primarily on issues that I feel God has assigned to me, ways He wants me to get involved. The problems I try to address won’t be the same as the problems you care about. That’s a good thing. We can’t all work on political justice, or feeding the poor, or saving the whales. But in each of these examples, someone should. (It’s highly likely that you consider your issue to be the most important, but remember, we all feel that way. Be kind.)
In my case, some of the problems I hope to help solve are on the other side of the earth. While I do what I can from here in Colorado, I’m not likely to travel halfway around the world, at least not very often. Others are local—I can (and do) personally get involved in solving problems in our area. Let me give you some examples so you can see what I mean.
One of the global issues I care a lot about is the plight of women in underdeveloped countries. They often have few resources, and fewer rights. While I can’t afford to go help these women in person, I can send money to organizations that help. At the top of my Christmas wish list every year is a request for donations to support microenterprise in India. These banks or co-ops provide poor women with very small business loans, allowing them to support themselves with dignity. When choosing gifts for others, I often opt for fair trade handicrafts, a way of supporting these small businesses. I also pray for the women. Don’t underestimate what God will do if we will only ask.
On a local level, a major focus of mine is conservation. While Pete and I can’t afford to give a lot of money to environmental causes, I can donate some time. So, I volunteer with our local Audubon chapter as newsletter editor and webmaster, and highlight various nature-related issues on my other blog. We’re also diligent in recycling, drive fuel-efficient cars, have a wildlife-friendly landscape, and do what we can in other ways to conserve resources and restore the environment.
While other issues may grab my attention, and even get some of my time and/or money, I try to limit my areas of greatest concern to three or four. Doing so allows me to concentrate my resources to where they can make a real difference. It also keeps me too busy to complain (of despair) about everything else!
It’s amazing how freeing it is to accept responsibility for my share of the world’s problems—and only my share. I’m not good at mobilizing the masses to march for a cause. I’m unlikely to write a best-seller that changes the world. But I can do what I’m called to do. So can you.
We can’t do everything, but we can do something. What’s your thing?