Note: Cheryl has been kind enough to allow me to stick around and blog from time to time. I am also blogging on my personal blog site.
I often take the things that I worry about in my personal life and place them in the context of the world at large. When I do so, my worries seem petty and small, because when it comes right down to it, I’ve led a pretty blessed life.
I’ve always been rather idealistic – something that has driven different people in my life to distraction over the years. I’m a silver lining kind of gal. My politics tend towards idealism, although I’ve gained a great deal of pragmatism (for me) as I’ve gotten older. I’m that voter who drives others crazy. I am the one who doesn’t believe she should have to select between the lesser of two evils. I actually feel that we should have an honest choice and politics, and as such I sometimes “throw my vote away” by voting for obscure third-party candidates who actually seem to align with what the voices in my head tell me the world could be like if we’d just get out of our own way. While I understand that in any given election, my vote probably doesn’t count for squat because of this proclivity, I also believe that if enough of us keep voting for third parties, maybe someone will finally sit up and take notice. I want to vote for a candidate, not against one, and my third party votes allow me to do so.
The saying “ignorance is bliss” rings with special poignancy for me when I hear it. There are many things I wish I didn’t know about the world in which we live; however, once I learned those things, they became a bell that could not be un-rung. Since I have an intensely curious nature, I frequently wind up learning – well – a lot of stuff. I read books, watch documentaries, do research, and ask questions because I want to know. While these activities fortify my mind and broaden my worldview, they also sweep me further from my Garden of Eden where everything is beautiful.
I was recently talking with my father about how much the things I learn change my worldview, and not always for the better. I’ve always felt my father was a pretty wise man, and as usual he had wisdom to share in this case.
“You can become more aware,” he said, “And still not let it change who you are.”
I want to see the world as a good place filled with good people like I did as a child, but my adult years have taught me much of what is really out there. There are so many aspects of life in this world that deeply disturb me. What am I talking about? I have a list.
The wealth gap between the rich and the poor
The cycle of poverty
Child abuse and domestic violence
The total control corporations have over our government, and therefore our lives
The industrialization of our food supply
The fact that our government is unwilling to accept love and partnership as a legal construct regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of the partners
The havoc human beings continue to wreak on our planet
The callousness with which many humans treat one another
The cruelty we display to animals in order to further our own agendas
The environmental toxins we release into the atmosphere
The fact that we have not been able to overcome our inherent xenophobia as a species, and therefore fear our differences rather than celebrating them
The church’s co-option of God and subsequent use to push institutional agendas that pull us apart rather than drawing us together
I could go on, but I won’t. Not because the other issues don’t matter, but because each of us has our own concerns, and yours may be very different than mine. That’s okay. What matters is that, in a world full of problems, it is often difficult to determine how to be a solution instead of a contributor.
This is why I think ignorance is bliss. Because once we are aware of a problem, if we choose to look away rather than act, then we become complicit. Our inaction makes us no better than one who perpetrates the acts in the first place.
This morning, I woke up, took my thyroid medication and made some tea. After driving my child to school, I sat down in my comfy chair with one of the five computers in our house and began browsing our high-speed Internet. After doing some of my paid work online, I went into the kitchen where I scrambled some farm-fresh, hormone-free eggs and topped them with an organic scallion and organic avocados. Next, I poured the water that I have in my purchased five gallon water jugs and took the vitamins and supplements for which I pay a handy sum every month. I was a little cold, so I bumped the heat in my 4,500 square foot home and then got back to work on the computer.
The utter privilege implied in the first three hours of my morning routine is astounding to me when I break it down and compare it to the rest of the world. Not only do I have health insurance and a health savings account with which I can pay for my thyroid medication, but I have a vehicle and money for the gas to power it that drives me to the doctors’ office (which my insurance pays for) to get the prescription and to the pharmacy to pick up the medication. When I make my expensive, organic tea, my hot water comes from a special water heating tap on my very clean bottled water dispenser. I also have the gas to pay to drive my child to school, the money to provide him with clothes, school supplies, and musical instruments. I have both the money and the technological know-how to own and use computers and pay for the Internet. I have a job, and someone actually pays me fairly well to sit at home in a comfortable chair, do research on the Internet, and write about what I have learned. I have the luxury of choosing the foods that I eat and deciding whether I want to spend my disposable income on things like bottled water, organic produce, and sustainably produced meats. I also can afford the transportation to local farm stands and/or farmer’s markets. When I have health issues, I can make nutritional choices because I can afford the luxury of things like vitamins and artisanal foods. I can afford to heat my extremely large house, feed my four dogs and a cat, and still have money left over for things like shopping and entertainment.
While this is how it is in my world, it certainly isn’t the way much of the rest of the world operates. There are families living within a mile of me who would look at the way I lead my life as utterly foreign. Some may not have homes at all. Others may only be able to afford a fast food meal per day to feed their families. Some lack vehicles, others can’t afford gas. Some don’t even have running water or a clean source of potable water. Many have illnesses they can’t get diagnosed or treated, so they just live with them. Some children wake up every morning and fear for their personal safety. Others are grateful for school, because at least they get food there.
I have become very aware that my insular little world looks nothing like the lives that many people in locations both nearby and far away experience.
Every day when I drive down my hill in my soccer mom SUV, I pass the food bank. It is on Fridays that the food bank gives out its food from noon to 3 PM. When I pass on Fridays, the line always snakes out the door and queues onto the street. For many, this is their main source of food, and if some of the food bank contributions I’ve made over the years are any indication, the choices are often grim – things people have in their cupboards that they find themselves wondering, “Why on Earth did I ever buy that?” Those are often the types of food that wind up at the food bank.
As I see it, I have two choices when I drive down my hill past the food bank. I can look away and go on with my luxurious life, or I can do something. I am not proud to say it, but there are many times that I’ve done nothing. When I feel I can afford generosity, when I decide it won’t inconvenience me or my family, then I give. I would imagine that I am not all that unusual.
When our backs are to the wall and we see signs of human suffering right in front of us, we are often spurred to action. In the wake of natural disaster, the generosity of the human spirit pours forth. When we don’t see it, however, we can often turn away. Still, human pain and suffering doesn’t only arise in the wake of a hurricane, tidal wave, flood, or earthquake. Human suffering occurs all around us. Millions live in poverty. Others face domestic violence and abuse on a near daily basis. Whether we choose to pay attention or not, the fact remains. It is there, just beyond the fringes of our consciousness.
I’ve heard the argument from the very wealthy before that the reason they are at the top is because God gave them what they could handle, just as He does for every person. This is a concept that is very difficult for me to understand – that God would give some so much and others so very little. If, however, it is true that God hands out goodies to people He believes could handle it, wouldn’t it be because He also wanted them to be good stewards of the gifts He has provided? Perhaps, if you believe God has gifted you with plenty, it is because (s)He wants you to share that plenty with others who have received little.
For me, finding that balance between helping and still doing what is best for myself and my family is very difficult. I always feel that I don’t do enough to help alleviate the suffering of others. How much is enough? In the words of my very wise father, “You do what you can.”
My parents see helping others as a moral imperative, and their example is one that I seek to emulate. Still, I often find little satisfaction in the help I provide, because I find myself wondering, “Is it enough? Could I do more?”
What does doing more entail? Does it mean giving a little something to every homeless person I drive past who stands at an offramp with a sign? Does it mean contributing an increasing sum of my income to others? Does it mean volunteering more of my time to help? How much is enough? How much do we really need? $50,000? $500,000? $500,000,000? How do we know if we help enough? Is it only enough when we become Mother Teresa? Are we somehow not living up to our potential if we are not taking only the very minimum for ourselves and then giving the rest back to our fellow man? Where is the balance?
These are moral questions with answers that I can only arrive at for myself, just as you can only find your own answers. I’m really not sure of the answers, only the questions. The best I can do is let my conscience be my guide.