For a couple of hours last weekend I helped my brother move house. As we lifted things through the front door and up the stairs and distributed them to various rooms, something struck me. As his family was moving into a new home, there were multitudes of others around the middle-east and Europe and elsewhere at that very moment who were being forced in the very opposite direction – away from their homes.
I felt perplexed. How could something good be happening to us, while something so awful was happening to others?
I have been feeling like that a lot lately – confused. I find it so strange that as I cycle to work, sit at my desk, eat my lunch and post a letter – as I go about my normal routine in relative comfort and ease, there are many people sharing my world whose lives are far from comfortable.
Right now, around the globe there are almost 60 million people who have been forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict and persecution. Life is difficult for many others too, billions even, who remain trapped in the grip of extreme poverty and marginalisation.
If it wasn’t there already, the tragic recent events in Paris have brought the reality of a hurting world to the forefront of our minds.
I have found myself thinking over the last weeks and months, ‘what should I do? Surely I must do something? Surely I can’t just carry on as normal?’ Maybe you’ve been having similar thoughts.
What is required of me?
So what should we do? How should we respond to news coverage of wide-scale tragic events around the world? Our response can range from doing our best to ignore it and get on with our lives, to climbing on the next plane to help (as these people have done by travelling to Greece).
There’s no right answer about what we should do, but I think there are common reactions that we should avoid.
One prevailing reaction is guilt. Some feel bad for enjoying security and prosperity while many are subject to massive hardship. Others feel bad because they are not doing anything to help the suffering, and not offering any solutions.
If you think about it though, feeling bad about having all you need to live a healthy and happy life doesn’t really make sense; health and security are good things, the way it’s supposed to be. The fact that someone else doesn’t have those things doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you to have them. Not enjoying your life because of guilt doesn’t help anyone – you just won’t be as fun to be around.
The trouble with feeling bad for not doing anything to help, is that we hear far, far more bad news than we could ever possibly do anything about. I heard someone say, that in one day we often know more about what is happening in the world than someone 100 years ago would have know in a year. They’re probably right.
If you are motivated to action by guilt, you will probably never appease it, because you will never have enough to contribute to every tragedy that arises.
Another reaction is fear. We become afraid by how dark the world is – if it can happen there, it can happen here, we think.
As you know, the media is incredibly unbalanced. For some reason we are drawn to bad news – most of us will consume it over good news any day. As a result, that is mostly what we’re fed. In reality, there are an incredible amount of amazing things going on all the time, that we never get to find out about. If the news gave balanced coverage of what was happening in the world, we would probably feel a lot different after reading or watching. We would spend more time saying to ourselves, if something that good could happen there, it can happen here!
Fear really is not worth having around. It quickly turns to prejudice and racism, which evolves into all-out hate. We are afraid of the unknown. The people who become furious at the thought of having refugees sheltered in our communities, are so upset simply because they are afraid. Because they don’t understand these outsiders, knowing little about their circumstances or history, they are fearful, and because they are fearful they become prejudiced. This, fed by rumors and stories about individuals, often stirred up by the media, turns into all out hate towards whole groups of people.
Reacting to anything in fear or guilt, is never a good way to go. Nothing positive will ever come from it.
So, how should we respond? I think that once you have decided to stop feeling guilty and chosen not to be afraid, you can think clearly about how to make powerful choices.
Really, there is only one answer. The single way to respond to the pain and suffering we see on TV and in the papers, that can bring any kind of good into the world, is not to fear, or feel guilty, but to love.
What does responding in love even mean? Something done out of love is not done to soothe your conscience, or to alleviate your own fears, but is an overflow of a celebration going on inside you, of the value of yourself and the people around you.
Love isn’t a mushy thing from films. It is a way of living that values freedom rather than slavery to fear or anything like that. It is right to be moved and feel incredibly sad about bad things that go on in the world. But our response shouldn’t stop there – if it does, darkness has won and succeeded in its purpose to spread hopelessness and depression.
Responding in love might mean allowing bad news to make you thankful for the good things you have. Enjoy your provision and celebrate peace. To love is to live utterly free from fear and anxiety. There is absolutely no fear in love, whatsoever – not a bean. People think of love as a bit of a weakling – the opposite is reality. Love doesn’t bend under pressure or melt in that face of danger.
Once we have done this, whatever practical thing you choose to do in response to what you hear about on the news, do it as a celebration of freedom, rather than out of duty or fear. If you decide to do absolutely nothing, I think that’s fine. If you choose to fly across the world to help, I think that’s fine too. Just do either motivated by love.
I think it’s so important to hunt out good news, to get a balanced perception of what is actually going on in the world. These are some examples of places you can find it: