Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by how unkind so many people are, and the general lack of fairness in this cruel world.
I read and see things regularly that are so discouraging I’m reminded that humans as a species are barely two steps above the animals ripping each other to shreds on the Discovery Channel.
We live in a world where being decent and ethical is not only NOT rewarded, but can actually be an impediment to economic and social success. A world in which people are so concerned about their image and saving face that they go to drastic measures to pin blame and failure on others, while thinking little of the feelings of those who they impact.
Movies like the Hunger Games are so wildly successful and resonating because the social constructs that prevent humanity from engaging in such behaviours feel tenuous and unreliable to us, as thought they could be easily wiped away without a second thought, allowing chaos and Lord of the Flies-style rule to ensue.
The truly terrible are only a minority, certainly. But there are still legions of people who, while they may not be outwardly hostile, are content with the status quo; a status quo which is unkind to animals, women, those struggling with mental illness, and anyone who falls outside of the Caucasian heterosexual norm. A status quo that leaves privilege unchecked, and is distinctly lacking in empathy.
Just when thinking about these things has worked me into a spectacularly dismal mental state, something always pulls me out.
It may be my goofy dog Freyja grinning at me.
It might be the kindness of a friend, or colleague.
It might be the beauty of nature.
It’s often being confronted with irrefutable evidence that there are good people, trying to make the world a better place.
And when none of those things happen when I need them, I dig deep and try to create my own goodness, to transcend myself. I try to find a sense of purpose so that I don’t drown in despair.
I believe that many people feel like it’s just too overwhelming; like nothing we do can possibly make a meaningful difference. It’s not true. Most of us will not save the world, but each of us can make a difference right now, in someone’s life. Here are a few things that we can all do to make the world a bit better, even when it feels like our efforts are futile.
- Volunteer. It seems really simple, yet about half of all Canadians never volunteer. And amongst those who do, it’s a small minority who carry most of the load. If you don’t volunteer already, seize the day. Find something you care about, and put yourself out there to help. Start small if you need to, but whatever you do, follow through on your commitment. Small organizations are often desperate for reliable help. Leave your excuses at the door – everyone is busy and stressed, not just you – and take the plunge.
- Say something kind to someone else. This is a little bit like if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Except that it’s actually proactive, in that you go out of your way to say something kind. It will seriously make someone’s day, and the cost to you is nothing. One of my policies is that if someone says something nice to me about another person, I always try to relay that positive message to them. I’ve had times in the past where it would have meant everything to me to know something positive that someone had said about me, but nobody filled me in.
- Perform an act of service. Again, we’re all busy. But are you really too busy to do something that will make another person’s day? That friend who’s sick at home? Bake them some cookies. A colleague who’s feeling discouraged? Offer to make them tea, or offer them an ear. A spouse who’s visibly agitated and stressed? Offer to take something off their plate. You can never go wrong by helping someone else.
- Be kind to an animal. I can say from experience that there is nothing like the love of an animal whose life has been saved because somebody created a spot for them in their home and heart. Obviously adopting is not something that you can do many times over, lest you become a hoarder, but if some unconditional love would help you to be happier and more productive, this is a great way to fulfill that need. If you can’t adopt, find other ways to spend time with animals to heal all that ails you – volunteering at an animal shelter, offering to walk a friend’s dog, cat sitting, or even fostering temporarily. Some people I know in Toronto took this to another level, with their Toronto Pig Save vigils. During these they bore witness to trucks filled with pigs destined for slaughter, and made contact with the pigs whenever possible to give them some comfort as they suffered horribly.
- Let something go. This is the one that I’ve struggled with the most. It can be really easy to get hung up on the principle of something, and allow it to overtake you. It took me a while to fully wrap my mind around the fact that letting go of something does NOT equal condoning it, or acknowledging the hurt it may have caused. Letting something go is a gift you give yourself, because it lets you move forward with an unencumbered mind, and open heart, and it puts an end to needless conflict.
- Take care of yourself. This means put aside some time to do the things that fill your heart and ease your mind. Say “no” to requests and demands that don’t do that, particularly if it’s not truly required of you. Give yourself the time you need to recharge, so that when it’s time to act again you are doing so efficiently and with purpose. A burnt out advocate is not an effective advocate.
What would you suggest people do to make the world a better place?