Why is it that we always feel so much more obligated to become involved with an issue when it is right in front of us? Even when we know the same scenario could be happening anywhere at any given time, when it is in our vicinity, there is an added sense of duty to intervene. I believe this is even something that philosophers throughout history have pondered without there ever being a clear or concise explanation.
On my way to work this morning, once again, I was forced to observe for the third time, these pro-fetal lifers as I passed through an intersection. I have seen them standing there three times now. The first time I was so shocked, I didn’t really get a chance to be angry. The second time, my blood was boiling as I saw the original man had enlisted the help of some woman. This third (and I pray final) time, after my initial spike in blood pressure, I was able to calm myself down enough to consider why it was that this demonstration always makes me so violently angry. I still haven’t really been able to come up with a satisfying reason for why that is the case.
I know that there are anti-abortion people all over this god forsaken country. But for the majority of my life, I don’t pay much attention to them. Even hearing about the new abortion restrictions in Texas, while saddening and disturbing, didn’t give me the same visceral reaction. There is some type of strange mental disassociation when viewing an issue from a distance rather than in our own backyards.
Another example would be animal neglect. I know that there are millions of animals in terrible conditions right now, a lot of which are probably not more than walking distance from where I am now. Yet I don’t really think about it or feel compelled to go out and save them (even though I wish I could.) However, when my sister and I stumbled upon a starving, half-dead kitten on the side of the road a few years ago, we immediately rushed it to the vet and spent $50 only to have it put to sleep when the veterinarian told us they couldn’t save it.
I am guessing this distinction has something to do with the fact that in the past, we really wouldn’t have had any knowledge or ability to intervene in situations that were far away from us. Yet with the rapid advancements we’ve made in technology, I could make a significant difference for people and animals that are suffering across the world if I really tried. And I’m not really sure which way is the best when it comes to this strange phenomenon of personal responsibility.
Part of me wants to use this inconsistency to remind myself that just because I see an affront to decency and humanity in my home town, doesn’t make me any more responsible to change it than I am responsible to fight for civil rights in other countries. Then on the other hand, I wonder if proximity to a problem does hold more weight when it comes to personal duty. To a certain extent, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe the universe has presented these problems to me as a sign that I am supposed to do something. Another part of me questions whether what I’m supposed “to do” is practice surrender and letting go. Maybe it’s just an opportunity to exercise my anger management.
Yet another problem is wondering what there really is to do that would make a positive impact. Perhaps it would be more effective for us to act only on problems we have some distance from. At least then we may be more capable of responding with a level head. I’m sure doing a fundraiser for the Planned Parenthoods struggling in Texas would be more helpful than pulling over and arguing with those nut jobs I’ve seen on the corner.
Ultimately, while I’m grateful for all of the activists working hard to push society in the right direction, I don’t feel much like participating anymore. At only 28 years old, I am already so tired and jaded. It feels selfish, but I just don’t know if it’s worth it to keep fighting at this point. In the past my attempts at activism seemed to do more harm then good. I may or may not have positively impacted the causes I fought for, but I certainly negatively impacted my own mental health. Perhaps it’s a greater service to society for me to just take care of myself and be an example of what I’d like to see in the world.
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure it’s out of your own personal desire to do so rather than simply your proximity to the issue. I used to feel the weight of this self-imposed duty around my neck like heavy chains. I would often ruin my own day by getting into fights with people on Facebook about politics, religion, or animal rights just because I saw someone say something ignorant and felt I had to respond. I have always been a firm believer in the idea that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” While I still believe it is noble and righteous to stand up for what you believe in, there must be somewhere we draw the line in order to protect our own personal well being.
As far as I’m concerned at this point in my life, the world is crumbling around us. There are so many issues I am passionate about. I have such little influence and such an easily overwhelmed nature. This is the one and only life that I am going to get. Though it may sound selfish or insensitive toward all of the other beings who are suffering right now, I just want to enjoy the small portion of existence that is mine without inflicting a constant state of anger and strife onto myself. Especially when I genuinely believe the changes I want to fight for will take longer to accomplish than we have left as a species on this dying planet. For the time being, I am choosing personal peace over the pressure of proximity.