I have what you might call a “save the world” mentality. Every time I hear about a problem affecting the world — whether from the news or some other source — I immediately want to correct it.
Tell me that there is a starving family in Africa and I will want to feed them. Tell me that minorities are being unfairly targeted by the police and I will want to go to the police and give them what for. Tell me that a company just laid off hundreds of workers and I will want to get a job for every one of them. Tell me that bankers are stealing money from the people and I will want to get that money and give it back to those it was stolen from.
On one level, this is not really a bad thing at all. Wanting to do the right thing is always good. Wanting to change society, make it fairer and more equitable, finding ways to prevent the powerful from oppressing the weak, is always a good thing in my book. That I want to do that, I think, is a good thing.
The problem is that I am, well, limited. I have no idea where to start with most of these issues. Many of the problems I notice in our society are systematic. There is no way one person like me could possibly create any major, lasting, permanent change in our world, no matter how much I want to.
I want to save the world. I notice all of the various problems in this screwed up world of ours and I want to stop them, want to fix them, but I cannot and this frustrates me greatly. Frustration kills my inner drive to do anything. I feel like the entire world is my responsibility, so the fact that I, as an individual, cannot do much to change it makes me feel like a failure.
In recent years, I’ve come to accept that I cannot save the world. No individual can. We read and write about heroes who do that all the time, but in real life, that is just not possible. Individuals can do a lot of things, but saving the world from all its problems? No way. The world is too big and complex for something like that to be even remotely plausible.
I am not trying to be pessimistic here. I am not saying we should give up trying to make our world a better place. I just cannot help anybody if I feel like I should help everybody. I only remain sane by reminding myself that I can’t do anything to save the world and that I shouldn’t expect myself to, that many of the major problems in the world are in the hands of other people and that I should pay more attention to what I can control rather than what I can’t.
Because on an individual level, I do have some measure of control. I can work on my own flaws and sins. I will never be perfect, nor do I want to be, but I can improve myself. I can try to be kind to others, show them understanding, identify and eliminate my own harmful beliefs about others. I can do small things to make life better for me, my friends, my family, and other people I run into in my day-to-day life.
This is a lesson I forget often. I read a lot of religious and political blogs, so it’s not uncommon for me to end up depressed over some piece of bad news I read on one of them. I have noticed that the bigger the problem, the worse I feel. I judge myself for not doing “enough” to save the world, but what, exactly, can I do to make Congress play nice, to deal with the drought in Texas, or to destroy the bigotry that poisons our culture?
On a system-wide scale, nothing. But I always have to remind myself that as an individual, I can make some change in my own life. I can treat others with whom I disagree with grace, I can change my water usage habits, and I can fight my own bigotry whenever it rears its ugly head.
It’s not much. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not much. Yet I’ve come to realize that it is more important to work a real change in yourself than a shadow change in society. I stay sane by taking life one day at a time, by focusing on what I can change. I remain aware of the major problems affecting our world; however, I try my best (though often fail) to remind myself that I’m not a savior and that I can’t save the world no matter how much I may want to.
This is a bit different from what I normally write about. Much more philosophical, maybe even a little religious, with a dash of politics for good measure. Whether you agree with me or not, I don’t particularly care. I felt compelled to write this and now that I have it out of my system I feel better and that’s all that matters to me right now. Share your thoughts in the comments