I want to fix everything in the world right now. I want to fix so many things that I don’t know where to begin and then I get that paralysis – you know the feeling? – it’s just too much. I want a big glass of red wine and to just zone out on a television show.
It’s enough, I think to myself. It’s enough that I need to earn money and do laundry and remember to Skype with my mother. It’s enough that I worry about my son and did I turn in my taxes and remember to pay the electric bill. It’s enough that I need soy milk and I’m out of bread again and there’s dishes to be done. It’s enough.
In my overwhelmed state, I read. I read and I read and I read. If my bookmarked tabs had a gauge and an arrow, it would be in the red zone of dangerously overfull. I am an information junkie.
While on another reading/information gathering bender, I read about The List App, created by television’s B.J. Novak. The guy from the Office, remember? The cute one? So I immediately downloaded the app because I too love lists! I make lists every day! I enjoy lists very much!
But when it came time to create a list, I was suddenly paralyzed. What did I have to put on a list for the whole world to see? My favorite movies? So what. My grocery list, just to be ironic? How unoriginal.
Then one day, after sorting out the 19th argument between angry trolls on my Facebook page about peace and reconciliation – the irony of which weighs very heavily upon me – I had a kind of Pema Chödrön moment. I’m not the only one who feels totally overwhelmed and frustrated about what seems like a tsunami of unjust, messed up, uncool, unkind, illegal, should-be-illegal dysfunction in the world.
This frustration, this throw-in-the-freaking-towel frustration has to go somewhere. And people get angry, and they get unkind and they get impatient with one another. It’s all pent up.
Then I thought of a list. A list of shit that would change right NOW if I was president of the world:
Shit That Would Change Right Now If I Was President of the World
No more refugees, helpless, hungry and alone, being turned away from anywhere.
No more endless, useless fighting between Israel and Palestine.
No more animal cruelty and factory farming.
No more rich politicians allowed. No more lobbyists. No money in politics.
No more sex trade. Ever again. Not ever.
No human slavery of any kind, under any guise, ever.
No more “war on drugs”, imprisoning “drug offenders” and enabling and empowering violence and cartels.
No more women, anywhere in the world, without full human rights and voting and driving and no more domestic violence.
No more ISIS.
No more Taliban.
No more religious extremism.
No more giant floating plastic islands in the oceans.
No more villages without water and adequate medical care anywhere, ever.
No more 1% living in multi-million dollars penthouses while the aforementioned villagers walk five kilometers for water.
No more shitheads jacking up the price of much needed drugs.
No more mega-corporations manufacturing chemicals we don’t need and can’t dispose of and getting rich.
I could go on. I could go on for about twelve more days about the things I would change if I was President of the World. But I’m not, and I can’t.
So back to the frustration and the paralysis. I think I’m going to tell some troll off.
But – that’s not the way, I think to myself. It’s not the way. So what to do with this pent up frustration? Should I run around the block or meditate? Both are good ideas but they treat the symptom not the problem.
So many of us have so much pent up goodness in us. So much talent, energy and desire to give and to do, to create and to show up. So maybe this frustration is just pent up energy.
So what to do about that? What if we could realize and accept that we cannot do something about everything? What if we could just breathe it out and know it’s not our job to fix everything? What if we could just be okay with doing what we can, from where we are, with what we have? What would that realization be like?
That feels lighter already, to me. Just take it all down a notch. So I thought, well,
what fits into my life realistically?
What do I care about so much that taking the time to do it does not feel like a hassle? What if I just did one or two things that, as small as they are, make a difference, maybe not in my lifetime, but in the big picture? What if I give up the need for instant gratification and instant change and results? What if it is okay that it seems like a grain of sand on the beach?
“Our personal attempts to live humanely in this world”, Pema Chödrön says, “are never wasted.”
A few months ago, I became a vegan. Just me. Just one more person saying no to factory farming. I realize that still, daily, animals around the world are raised and slaughtered cruelly anyway. But with my small change (so delicious and easy by the way) I am not participating in that. And over time, more people will join me. And factory farming will end. I trust that.
Over a year ago, I started a Facebook page called Truth & Beauty, which advocates for more and closer scrutiny of media coverage of the conflict in Israel and how it affects our beliefs. It’s about not taking “sides”. It’s about being pro-peace and pro-resolution only.
It’s a flickering little candle in a sea of information about this conflict. But it’s my flickering little candle. Sometimes it gets discouraging maintaining the page. The media I post for scrutiny exposes me to the minutiae of the news cycle in ways that can be distressing. Sometimes people argue on the page, in ways that are totally counter to my mission. But fairly regularly, after awhile, someone crosses over to the reasonable side of things. And I consider that a victory.
Find something that you can do. Just one thing. And just do that thing. Don’t use plastic bags, walk to work, be kind to people, donate some money to an organization. Donate clothes, read to the kids in the hospital or the seniors at the nursing home, make some homemade cookies to the fire department.
The magical thing is that your small acts make an exponential difference in the long run. Think of it. You read to a senior citizen in a nursing home for one hour and you just made that person’s week. When someone grabs your old sweatshirt out of the barrel at the charity store? You just kept someone warm for a very long time. When you stop using plastic bags – one day a friend will ask about it, and they will too. And then a friend will ask them about it. For every angry, biased person I steadfastly ask to be open and empathetic to resolution, after awhile, like the steady drip of water on stone – that person might just do it. And these small deeds, these actions, spread out like ripples on a pond.
You can’t change the world – but you can feel better because you are tuned in, with intention, to doing what you can with what you have, right where you are. You can relax and embrace the chaos that is life on earth, knowing that you are not a spectator but a participant. And you can still have time to zone out with a glass of wine and Game of Thrones. Only you won’t feel quite so crappy when you do it. Because you earned it, baby!