I distinctly remember. Being in the car with my father, and feeling a sudden sense of obligation to do something about the world. We passed a homelessness, and I felt guilty, seeing his tanned gaunt face living in squalor, as not a quarter mile away million dollar homes were being built. The injustice burned, and I felt being born into a privileged life, I owed the world something, and while my intentions were noble, the scope of my pondering were dangerously broad.
This is not to say that I can’t help the world, or that I shouldn’t but the problem came when I set my intentions to help everyone. To fix the problem of __________ (insert global problem here).
32 year old me now sees the Three issues with my statement.
1. The vast overvaluing of my ability vs the scope of the problem.
2. The inconsistent judgement of what counted as enough.
3. The idea that there is a “solution” to problems at all, instead of simply a set of situations that change consistently.
As for the first, this is a common problem and it stems from a combination of many things, but primarily a lack of self knowledge, and the very human problem of overestimating our own ability, and underestimating how complex the problems of the world are.
A relatively broke college student in English might be able to volunteer on the weekends, and help quite a few people out, but alone he isn’t going to change the effects of three decades of poor public policy, the war on drugs, or human nature.
Take for example homelessness, it’s a huge problem, with many complex nuances, that stem from a variety of different factors. NGO’s and think tanks spend millions with some of the foremost thinkers in the field to come up with solutions and struggle to make a dent.
In the shadow of this revelation, it’s relatively foolish to assume that I a broke college student was going to make the final difference. (Not that I wouldn’t make any difference, but I lacked the humility to admit my own smallness.)
The problem of what counts is also an ego driven bout of perfectionism. Anything less than say the total end of homelessness would do for my hero drunk brain. This of course led me to feeling rather Impotent in the face of the problem, and feeling that my real contributions did not count. (alone they did not, but multiplied over a long time with others with similar mindset’s they would, but I couldn’t see that.)
The final issue, and the real issue, and the underlying defeat of perfectionist ideology is the realization that there is no “solution” to most problems, especially not big ones.
The idea that we can “solve” humanity is a dangerous utopian idea that often leads to the deaths of millions at it’s worst times, and dissatisfaction with life at the very least.
The problem is not that there is homelessness, the problem is that we expect it to end, and we expect ourselves to bear the burden.
To make the world better is an amazing thing, but just not making it worse is a beautiful thing as well.
I guess in all of this rambling I will say this. You cannot alone save the universe, but you can maybe save yourself, and make the world not worse. It sounds a little like a cop out, but eventually, you not making it worse, might inspire other’s to do the same.
Do not try and save the world. Save yourself first, and then if you have the energy, try and make the world suck just a little less, but you don’t have to. No one is watching. No one but you.