This past Thursday was Thanksgiving (at least, here in the United States). It’s a holiday of dubious origin, predicated on some very shaky historical tales, but whatever it’s beginnings, it’s now a day when the majority of the country shuts down and spends time with family and friends. Granted, the very next day is a mass sacrifice to consumerism but whatever.
I spent much of Wednesday night through Sunday off my computers and, in general, off-line. I checked Facebook a few times, sent a tweet or two, but aside from texting and calling loved ones, I really did very little digitally.
Oh, what a wonderful time.
Given how dark things have been recently, it was a terrific surcease, a respite that allowed me to focus on all that was good in my life. Family, food, movies and video games, etc. It was a great time and my mood and disposition seemed to improve by the hour. Sunday night came and I checked in online again, and everything took a turn.
Being offline, I wasn’t bombarded with a million stories of grief, strife, and sorrow. I wasn’t reminded of the impending doom that my country and my world faces. I wasn’t reminded of neighbors in desperate need and of a rampant failure of those tasked to protect us. Returning to that miasma of darkness was disheartening.
Part of me wonders, though, if that respite should be taken at all?
It is a privilege to be able to walk away from problems. It is a privilege to be able to say ‘wow, the Standing Rock protesters sure are getting screwed! Man, that’s sad” and then close the browser window. It is a problem that doesn’t affect me directly, a problem I can stop dealing with if I want. I can turn away from it, walk away from it, turn a blind eye. The protestor cannot.
It is the resistance to face ugly realities that allows them to perpetuate.
Throughout history, when whole segments of society have mobilized, the impossible is succeeded. Whether it is overthrowing an unjust government, finding effective treatments for disease, or putting a human being on the moon, when the majority mobilized, we become mighty.
Yet, there is a converse to this side. Compassion fatigue is a real thing and confronting oneself with the horrors of the world dulls our senses, our senses to horrors as well as our senses to beauty. If we bathe in the awful, we will see only the awful and that misses much of the world. And, of course, there’s that bit about staring into the abyss, but that can seem a little trite.
Many of us have a privilege to turn off the news, but we have an obligation to keep it on. We can step away for a break, but then we lessen the brutality of it all, dwarfing it until it becomes ‘just another sad story’. If you don’t care for the political talk, consider those charity videos about animal abuse. How sad it is to see animals neglected and harmed! It’s too much for some so they change the channel, but they do nothing to help the animals that are being harmed. They ignore the symptom so as to pretend the cause isn’t even there.
Privilege and obligation.
How do we balance them?
My resolution, already put in place, is to act on any injustice. I document anything that makes me uncomfortable – animal abuse, social injustice, political corruption, the list goes on – and I donate to those who monitor it (news agencies), those who fight it (charities), and those who can change the laws around it (politicians). As a Liberal in North Carolina, I have a strained relationship with my elected officials. Most swing far to the right, far from me. Yet I still tell them what I want to see. I still tell them the laws I want to see them address, the changes I want to see them make. They know absolutely how at least one constituent feels. What they do about it from there is up to them, but I make it clear.
And I vote. I vote not just at the ballot box, but I vote with my dollar. I donate to many charities. Not a lot! Hell no, I’m a writer! I forget what money looks like, but I still donate, even if it’s just a dollar. A single dollar doesn’t seem like much but it adds up. And it makes clear where I would put my money had I more.
That’s what I do. I turn away from ugliness but address it. I contact those who can do something about it and urge them to do something about. I keep doing that. I have pet causes, things I return to, matters I prioritize, but I keep that list of all that needs to be addressed.
Then I turn off the TV.
Compassion fatigue is a very real thing, and privilege is a thing to be enjoyed. Just not take for granted, not neglected, and not barred from others. There isn’t a single protestor in Standing Rock that wouldn’t love to be able to put away the task – wouldn’t love to change the channel, as it were – if they could. I can, so I do. But I make sure I don’t ignore the cause, even when I turn away from the symptom.
If you feel like I do, let me urge you to dig up your own causes. Below are some links to groups that I believe in, who champion causes I support, but I urge you to find causes YOU support, causes you want to see addressed.
There is ugliness in the world, even evil. But, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, ‘there is nothing wrong with the world that cannot be fixed with what is right in the world’.
Be what is right in the world.