4 Practical Ways to Respond to Suffering in the World / by Amy DeRosia

 CC Photo by  Tom Eversley

CC Photo by Tom Eversley

I don’t need to read the news, I see it on the faces of everyone I meet.
— Greg Brown

We learn about major tragic events minutes after they happen and well before any solutions have been found. There is unthinkable pain, injustice, and too many natural disasters. In a quick Google search, you’ll find horrific facts about animal rights, environmental issues, inequality, ect.  

What do we do with all of this information? Usually nothing. 

I am all for caring about things that matter. But getting worked up over issues we can't control leaves us feeling helpless, stressed out, and mad.

The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it.
— Helen Keller

Getting angry without action is useless. Here are some realistic ways to approach injustice around us:

1.       Practice self-compassion and acceptance. –. When you allow yourself to be exactly who you are and acknowledge your own shortcomings, it becomes much easier to do the same for others. You only have control of your own behavior. Start by being kind to yourself.

We live in a polarized society where everything is either: right/wrong, good/bad, or us/them. But our actual lives don’t fit into these categories. When we get better at accepting our own contradictions and complexities, the easier it will be to accept them in people around us.

Ash Beckham has an excellent TEDx talk on this topic. She shares what she learned from a situation where she was mistaken for her niece’s Dad.

2.       Develop empathy for others. – A lot of us can get into the bad habit of taking on others’ suffering as our own. This is not an effective approach. Empathy is about acknowledging the pain of another from a more conscious and objective place.

Having compassion for people around us is also about giving each other room to make mistakes and assuming we don’t have all of the facts. There is good and bad in everyone. We can learn to give each other more space to be imperfect.

3.       Finding a way to contribute. – I was inspired this past week by a The One You Feed podcast episode called “Tending Our Own Gardens”. Eric, the host, discussed a concept about being proactive from the book  7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

In the book, Stephen Covey describes two circles of issues we care about: 1) Circle of Concern –problems we can’t change like war or the weather, ect. 2) Circle of Influence –issues we have some control over.

We want to spend most of our time and energy on tasks within our Circle of Influence.

For global and large scale causes:

Because these issues are so complicated, joining instead of starting something is usually more realistic. If you are passionate about an issue that is too large to fix by yourself, finding even a small way to participate is wonderful. Signing petitions, donating money or resources, and sharing links on social media are all worthy uses of your time.  You could also make one of these causes your life mission by doing something like extensive volunteer work. 

For Local causes:

Our local communities are excellent places to focus our energy because they are well within our scope of influence. When you’re unhappy with something on a local level, you can easily figure out who to call. There are clear action steps. You can see the results of your hard work.

Getting involved at the grassroots level is a wonderful foundation for larger causes you may want to adopt in the future. There is so much good we can do in our cities.

Democracy actually works sometimes. Two recent examples of the Shreveport-Bossier citizens working together well are the Camp Minden Burn and the Little Free Library Shreveport zoning issue. Both causes have made national headlines. In each case, passionate citizens worked together and were successful (at least temporarily) about creating change. 

I went to my first City Council meeting yesterday about the Little Free Libraries. All I did was show up. There is something gratifying about being a part of the process –even in a small way.

4.       Share your work, projects, and art with others. – Create something …especially if it is inspired by or speaks to some of the larger, unsolvable problems around us. Your art and music helps all of us cope with these issues.

I highly recommend blogging as a medium for connection as well. There is something incredibly meaningful and fun about having your own space to reflect and share ideas and questions with like-minded people.

Taking action is important. But, we are the most useful when we’re doing it from a conscious, compassionate place. 

How do you take action about causes you're passionate about? Let me know in the comments.