What to do when the world seems terrible?

cows sunset

This week, I’ve been feeling angry. This is not the kind of world that I want my kids growing up in – where a young woman like Eurydice Dixon might be killed just because of the audacious crime of walking home alone. A world where another refugee, who came to Australia to escape God knows what horrors can feel so hopeless that he ends his own life, after being used as a pawn in a political game called ‘lets keep Australia exclusive and white’. I don’t want to hand over to my kids a world where there is more plastic in the ocean than fish, and we are still not taking climate change seriously. I don’t want to contribute to a world where a pilot whale can die off the coast of Thailand, after eating 80 plastic bags. I can’t stand the fact that Australia’s First People have a life expectancy that is 10 years shorter than non-Indigenous people. And I sure as hell don’t want to live in a world where nearly 2000 children have been taken from their parents to deter those trying to make it to the USA – and politicians have the shameless audacity to use the Bible to justify it.

I’ve been trying to write a post about the state of the world ever since Anthony Bourdain died. Sometimes, the horrific things that go on around us make me feel like crying into my coffee. It truly seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. And here’s what I’ve been trying to write: actually, things aren’t that bad. There is a lot of evidence that the world is actually becoming a safer, more tolerant place. All this decade, we’ve had less people dying as a result of war, worldwide, than any other time since World War 2. We have succeeded in eradicating, or nearly eradicating, a lot of really serious diseases. Worldwide, our life expectancy has gone up by twenty years since 1950. Illiteracy has been halved since 1970. We’ve managed to reduce the amount of people worldwide who are living in extreme poverty by at least half over the last 30 years. We are putting money into technological advances that might help to reduce the impact of global warming. We are much less inclined to put up with racism, homophobia, sexism, and injustice. It’s not all bad. There are a lot of reasons to be positive. All of this is true and important to keep in mind, but as I write it, I keep getting stuck. Because, here’s the thing – it’s not enough.

Yes, there are a lot of reasons to stay positive. But when horrible things are still happening, it seems like the right response is to get angry. To get angry, and to do something. And there are things that we can do. There are vigils taking place for Eurydice Dixon, both to mourn her loss, and the loss of other women who have died at the hands of men, and to say no more. Our culture needs to change. There have been protests to demand a change to our policies regarding keeping asylum seekers in indefinite limbo. There is always something to do – write to a politician, volunteer, speak up. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Me, I feel like turning over tables and demanding change. Burning everything down. But I live on a farm, in little, remote Esperance. There’s nothing here to burn down.

But it’s not healthy to be angry forever. It makes me tense and snappy, prone to arguments on Facebook. I express my outrage to my longsuffering partner, and he listens, but then he makes me laugh, makes me remember that there are good things in the world. We are lucky. We are so lucky to be born in this country, to have had the opportunities we have had. We are so lucky to have never faced war or genocide, or rape and murder, or all of the disadvantage that some people must struggle to overcome. But to whom much is given, from him much will be required. What do we do with all of this good fortune? Especially when so many people have so little.

Perhaps the answer does not lie in something monumental. Perhaps the way to making the world a better place is in small kindnesses. Not just little passive kindnesses, like smiling at a stranger, or putting a bit of change into that homeless guy’s cup, but active kindnesses. Offering to look after someone’s kid if they’ve just had a baby, or going out of our way to check up on someone who is struggling. Stepping out of our own comfort zones to befriend someone different to us. But kindness doesn’t equate to weakness. It must also mean speaking out when we see injustice. That might mean calling out a family member who makes racist or homophobic jokes. It might mean having a serious conversation with a friend who demonstrates casual misogyny, talks about women as ‘asking for it’ or any such attitude. Maybe it just means shopping at a farmers’ market instead of at the big shopping centers, or taking active steps to change our purchasing habits. Every dollar you spend is casting your vote for the kind of world you want to live in. And all these little things have to add up. I have to believe it.

But in the mean time, in the face of tragedy and injustice, I try to remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. There are still good people. I’m lucky to know so many of them. There is still hope, that just maybe we are on the right track here. When I’m feeling angry, I usually take my dogs for a walk. It’s hard to feel outraged when you are staring at cows, peacefully grazing at dusk, or when you are watching dogs run and play. I don’t want to forget what happened to Eurydice, and to the 30 other women who have been murdered this year in Australia. I don’t want to forget the other things that I am mad about. But staying angry will not serve them, and life is about balance, right? It’s about doing the things that I can, no matter how little, and then letting go of the rest. It’s about being incredibly grateful for the good things that I have, and still holding onto hope that there is enough good in this world to share. And right now, that has to be enough. I hope so.

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