Awareness vs. Self-Preservation


“It’s good to be exposed to politics and what’s going down here, but it does damage to me. Too much of it can cripple me. And if I really let myself think about it — –the violence, the sickness, all of it — –I think I’d flip out.”

–Joni Mitchell, from Rolling Stone Magazine, 1969

I think about this ALL the time!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was choosing to face some gloom, because not doing so would be contributing to the problem rather than the solution, and the toll it took on me was considerable, I just about flipped out.

See, I feel like, if I’m going to be helpful I need to be well-informed. But man, getting informed, reading as much as I can on issues, reading more than one source, reading competing ideas, it all adds up to a lot of exposure to ugly details, terrible injustices, radically horrible attitudes and ignorant ideologies.

And yet, even if you bury your head in the sand, your ass is still sticking up in the air and vulnerable to getting mightily kicked.

I do believe that spirituality can help, I keep doing my meditation and yoga in hopes that being more firmly grounded in the present moment and less susceptible to regret and fear will help, but I still can’t avoid becoming overwhelmed by the unforgiving harshness in the world.

So, what’s the solution?

How do people like career activists and humanitarian aid providers do it, day in and day out in some of the most desperate situations?

Any ideas?


7 thoughts on “Awareness vs. Self-Preservation

  1. I think it’s a matter of perspective. If you look at the good things close to you and view the bad from afar, the good will always look bigger. I really think that an element of selfishness is necessary for sanity. You have to live for the small things you can fix right now and let yourself believe that it makes you heroic. If you get too realistic, the ugliness becomes overwhelming.

    1. Wonderful, Bridget. So true. On my good days I remember that I know these ideas you have mentioned, so it’s partly a matter, for me, to be able to access those ideas and live into them more often. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

  2. I’m speaking as a “humanitarian aid” provider. I work in an Urgent Care, train service dog puppies at home, and I’ve worked in dementia care and on a variety of other volunteer projects.

    My attitude strategy is to celebrate every progress, no matter how small. Fix what I can. Reduce pain and fear when the situation can’t be fixed. Do what your skills and resources make possible, and learn to acquire new skills to expand your usefulness. You can’t save everyone, but sometimes you can save one.

    If it matters, I have a lot more faith in the compassion of individuals and small groups working in common cause than in ordinary political solutions. The government can raise and send money, but capitalism is not a kind system by nature, and change comes too slowly that way. People die every day waiting for changes in law.

    1. Mikey, thanks, also, to you for your thoughts on this topic and for the work that you do to help people. Service truly is one very important piece of the picture. Action, in general, is key too, rather than just staying informed. Thanks!

  3. I have to say first that all my comments come from the perspective of a white middle class heterosexual who’s got tons of privilege.

    Seems to me there’s a role for selective blinders. If you really look hard at the breadth and depth of problems in the world you’ll be overwhelmed. If you keep your focus on what’s within reach that you can change, you can maintain some optimism that your efforts make a real difference.

    Which they DO, for the people helped. No matter what statistical tools you use, if it happens to someone the odds became 100% for that person in that moment. You are working on 100% of their problem (setting aside all the institutional and structural forces because their problem can’t wait while you go fix those first).

    Working to make streets safer for bicycling is both my day job and my avocation. The size of the problem, the ways the problems were literally set in stone 50 years ago, the callousness of people who joke about killing other people using cars as weapons–absolutely, all that could overwhelm. I need it to motivate not just me, but lots and lots of people, or it won’t change.

    I also look at what we HAVE done, not just at what remains to be done. Racism and bigotry against people who are gay or gender nonconforming still kill. But the world I grew up in would not have elected a black man as president. My hometown didn’t have lots of couples who could love each other legally and openly. If there were any kids in my little country elementary school in Idaho who didn’t feel like they were born in the right body, they had no way of knowing they weren’t alone.

    We have far to go but we really have come far.

  4. The only advice I can give you is be the change you want to see in the world and keep meditating daily as I do now…( this from someone who frequently feels overwhelmed with sorrow and hopelessness at the horror of man made inhumanity to man..

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