The Pressure of Proximity

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.

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

The History of Humans

I am easily frustrated by the many ways in which corporations and governments take advantage of average people. Advertisements sicken me. The stagnant low wages fill me with rage and resentment. The broken healthcare system in the United States is an abomination. Racism, sexism, and bigotry seem to be everywhere I look. Hypocrisy, idiocy, selfishness, etc. No matter what I shift my focus toward, I can find something unjust about the systems that support it. It can become overwhelming to be confronted by such obvious inequality and corruption every day.

While I’m not suggesting we merely accept these injustices, I am starting to realize that while things are not perfect by any means, they are a hell of a lot better than they have been in the majority of human history. I’ve been reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time, and it is really highlighting this fact for me. Set in the 1700s the story is filled with tragic images of starving peasants and monstrous upper class tyrants. In one scene there is even a child that is run over in the street by a wealthy man’s carriage. While the father of the child is hysterical, no one seems surprised or even outraged. This is simply the treatment they’ve come to expect. The rich man feels no remorse and is actually irritated that he had to stop his carriage at all. He callously throws a coin at the dead boy’s father as if that is any type of compensation for the life of his son.

While I know this is a fictional story, I also know that it is an accurate reflection of the way things used to be. It’s a delicate line to walk between gratitude and the passionate urge to do better as a society. Of course, I’m not saying that the suffering of the lower and middle classes today don’t matter. There are real, egregious issues with our current system, but comparatively the most unfortunate among us still have it better than the majority of the population throughout history. And while that doesn’t erase our current problems, it is still something to reflect on and be grateful for.

Things are far from perfect, but I’m quite surprised and pleased by how far we’ve managed to come as a society. It really puts into perspective just how lucky I am that my biggest irritation from day to day is something as frivolous as advertisements on billboards along the highway. Oh, how the characters in that story would envy me, would quite literally kill to be in my shoes.

I’m working on finding that middle ground between gratitude and fighting for further social justice. Allowing my anger and indignation to obstruct my perspective isn’t serving anyone, least of all myself. Instead of coming from the hateful, entitled space I’m used to, I want to fight for what I believe in while also being thankful for what I do have. I want to make my voice heard, but within the context of hope and the belief that we truly can do better for ourselves and our community, rather than from a context of disgust and disappointment.

There are a lot of similarities between the elites of the past and the present, but as for the peasants and paupers (the group I would have found myself in) we have made monumental improvements. As with most things, I hold extremely high standards for my fellow humans. But placing today’s society in developed countries within the context of the societies of the past, shows that while humans are not what I hope for them to be, they could certainly be a hell of a lot worse.

What an absolute miracle it is that someone like me even has the opportunity to make a difference and have my voice heard. Some may have it better than I do, but to just imagine the luxuries I am able to take for granted is staggering. Glancing back at where we’ve come from, it’s honestly surprising we were ever able to improve things so much. There is a certain beauty and hope in that realization.

Despite my near constant complaining, at the end of the day, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the life that I have been given. Even with all the issues we are faced with today, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I am so fortunate. And I’d like to spend more of my energy enjoying and appreciating that fact even as I advocate for us to do even better for the many, many people who are less fortunate.

Peasants in an Interior, 1661 - Adriaen van Ostade - WikiArt.org

Perspective

Scientists are discovering new things about outer space every day. Recently they’ve even been able to look outside of our solar system and find other planets. With at least 100 billion stars within the Milky Way Galaxy alone, that means there are potentially a billion or more planets capable of sustaining life just like our Earth. Not to mention that there are billions more galaxies in the universe. It’s hard to even conceptualize just how much life may be out there that we don’t know about.

When I was confronted with this information, I started to get really curious about just how much I don’t know about existence. We tend to live our lives with the assumption that we know all of the information we need to to make accurate predictions and life decisions. Sometimes I am even paralyzed by my need to collect all the information before making a choice. Realizing that I’ll never be able to know everything takes a bit of that pressure off. It also helps me let go of my fears and worries about things going on on the other side of the world. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. I’m sure what happens on these other planets throughout our universe matters too, but that doesn’t mean I need to concern myself with it.

It’s important for us to realize that the events we know about don’t even come close to the information we could potentially know. So it’s okay to narrow your scope. We don’t need to know everything. What’s best is for us to each focus on our own small community first. It used to make me anxious to consider not staying updated on foreign affairs and global politics. Eventually I’ve come to realize that exposing myself to the weight of the world, is only hurting my ability to help. I become overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start. I feel hopelessly incompetent to make a significant difference in the world. With all of these serious issues looming over our world, it feels pointless to do something so small as community service in my small area. After all, what will that matter in the grand scheme of things?

There’s the problem. Focusing too much on the “grand scheme” leaves us feeling helplessly overwhelmed. We lose sight of the significance of doing what we can for our own communities in light of the endless global issues happening every day. But here in our own communities is the place that all those bigger issues can start to be addressed. We may not be able to end world hunger, but we can support our local soup kitchen, and that matters. We may not be able to influence global politics, but we can have an impact on what goes on in our home town. Maybe we can’t end homelessness, but you can offer food, money, and kindness to the unhoused man you pass by on the corner every day. We get so caught up in changing the world that we forget the power we have to change individual lives, and that’s just as good. If everyone did what they could for their own village, town, or city, those small acts would create a ripple effect, eventually changing the world.

You may be thinking, well everyone won’t try to create positive change in their own community, so why bother? This is the argument I get against veganism all the time. We won’t be able to end animal agriculture, so I might as well keep eating meat. I definitely get the thought process behind this response. However, it’s never been a good enough reason for me not to try. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Sure maybe all that comes of your efforts is that one person has a good day. Maybe my veganism only spares one single animal from slaughter. That’s still better than nothing. That’s still enough for me. That’s still worth it. At the end of the day I still know that I’ve tried my best. We can’t control what others do, but we can control what we do and hope that our example may inspire others to join us. And that’s how every big change was started, just one person doing what they believe is right, regardless of what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do in response.

If you still find yourself feeling hopeless, consider this. Even if we end suffering on our planet, there are potentially billions and billions of other planets still struggling with similar problems. Does that make the progress we’ve made irrelevant? Of course not! So why should we belittle our local impact simply because it won’t change the entire world? Sometimes widening our perspective is just what we need to realize it’s okay to narrow our focus. Just do what you can, and don’t worry about the rest. Let the other pieces fall where they may. You’ll at least know that your piece is being taken care of.

Our Milky Way galaxy is on collision course with nearby Andromeda galaxy -  Tech Explorist