“I am only one, but I am still one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Edward Everett Hale
I stopped watching the news many years ago. It had been a nightly habit, but I started tuning out when my kids were just tiny-tots. It was a time of life filled with unrelenting demands of dependent little-ones and nights that didn’t grant enough consecutive hours of sleep to actually feel rested. Watching the continual stream of sadness and negativity that poured from my TV screen seemed to add to my exhaustion and created a sense of heartache and hopelessness. I began to feel overwhelmed by all the problems of the world and I had a deep sense of my inability to respond in a meaningful way.
Reducing my exposure to the never-ending global unrest was a way of implementing self-care; a way to guard against feeling deeply when I had little energy to do so. Although this was important at the time, it was not my desire to be continually shut-off and ignorant. For as the clock continues to tick – whether or not we take notice – so does the hurt, the pain and the injustice of the world. We can tune out and choose not to engage, for it can be disconcerting, awkward and unsettling – an unwelcome intrusion into an otherwise comfortable existence – but that doesn’t mean it stops happening. I didn’t want to become numb to the pain around me by insulating myself in my cosy life.
With high levels of idealism and empathy, I have come to realise that in order for me to remain aware of the world but guard against constant overwhelm, it is essential for me to be intentional in my self-care. These are some of the strategies I have adopted in order to stay healthy, balanced and grounded.
- Decide how much, and from which sources, to receive the news of the world. I no longer take on a steady diet of sensationalized news. Rather, I am particular about my sources of information and how much I take on.
- Balance the overwhelming negativity with positive stories. This isn’t a form of escapism but focuses on finding stories of hope that shine light into the midst of despair. Hope looks at what is possible and it is fuelled when we fill our hearts with stories of courage, strength and resilience and hear stories of extraordinary kindness, sacrifice and selfless giving.
- Attempt to humanise the debate. Often, when we see a world full of trouble – whether it’s homelessness, crime, war, poverty, injustice or cruelty – we see problems, not individuals. We then debate the problem, give it our personal commentary, blame it on someone, create and perpetuate stereotypes, or hope it just goes away. Listening to the stories of real people (like ‘New Humans of Australia’, or ‘I Am’) can challenge the stereotypes, open our eyes to our shared humanity and break down barriers to change.
- Listen well, without feeling compelled to shoulder the responsibility. When we read or watch a story, or when someone shares their troubles with us, we can sometimes feel weighed down with the perceived expectation to find solutions. In order to combat this I remind myself to listen simply to understand. There is a time and place to follow empathy with action, but it is so important to put aside our preconceived ideas and give others space to feel heard.
- Find something (an organisation or a cause) to support wholeheartedly. We cannot do everything but we can do something. Trying to save the whole world is an impossible task. Some of us are asked to lead countries, schools, churches, businesses or revolutions and some of us are asked to seek change in quieter ways. Whatever the call upon our lives, if we focus on what we can do, we can shift our focus from a place of helplessness to a place of empathy and action.
As we take our focus off the looming mountain of impossibility we free our minds to find the seemingly insignificant little paths winding slowly through the inhospitable terrain. It is on these paths that we can begin to see ways to step forward – one step at a time.
Learning to navigate those little paths,