Monday, Robin Williams dies in his San Francisco home, succumbing to severe depression. Tuesday, across the continent, I am in a factory making antidepressants. This isn’t lost on me. I mourn helplessly as I watch the hundreds of thousands of tablets rush by.
Iraq: Christians, Yazidis and other innocents are systematically killed under the onslaught of the ISIS. Outrage explodes all over social media, and every Christian blog sounds the trumpet. “Wake up!” they say. “Grow a pair!”
So I write to my Member of Parliament, and I look for an organization to donate to, and I pray, all the while knowing that the letter won’t reach the government for days, and the money can’t throw up a brick wall between the bullets and the little kids.
What can my small voice do?
In times like this it’s stylish to bash North American apathy. Oh yeah, I have it easy. I’m safe at home in front of my MacBook after my shift in the pharmaceutical factory. But what the hell do you want me to do? Get a gun and hop on the first plane?
Does anyone ever tell you that you must live your own life?
You cannot for one instant become an Iraqi Christian, take a bullet and be cleansed of the guilt of being a rich, white American. You are yourself, and here you are, in front of your MacBook.
But consider that Robin Williams was also a rich, white American, and he died in his own home, in the agony of depression. He’s a public case of a common story. We are surrounded by people who feel alone and hopeless, who stagger under the crushing weight of mental illness, physical abuse, relational brokenness, financial burdens, failure at their job, and unbearable schedules. Twitter isn’t hopping with their stories, but the pain is real.
We are surrounded by a sea of troubles. We don’t need to look so far into the distance when they are right under our noses.
I fear that North Americans come off as apathetic because they’ve been convinced that they are too little to fix things. Think of what we say: “The government ought to… My boss ought to… My parents need to…” Our movies are all about BIG problems fixed by action heroes, spies, and superstars. Heck, even the Evangelical Christian world is dominated by megachurch pastors and their best selling books.
I can’t help but think of the proverb “If everyone would sweep their front step, the whole world would be clean.” It is by ten-thousand small acts that the world changes.
I hope I’m not coming off too preachy. In fact, this post is the result of hours of contemplation and quite a few helpless tears. What can my small voice do? I’ve come to the shaky realization that I must do what only I can do. I must complete my assignment on this earth.
There are four ways I believe this can be accomplished.
1. Accept our Assignments.
No one has the exact combination of friends, family, location and predispositions that we do. We must be at peace with our starting point because it makes us uniquely qualified to work in our circle of influence. The moment we say “I wish I was…” or feel guilty for who we are, we inadvertently say “I am too good for this.” Instead, start looking for what you are good at, and what provokes you, and consider this the trailhead to your mission.
2. Become experts.
We begin by acceptance, but we can’t be satisfied with who we are. The resources and knowledge we begin with won’t be sufficient to live a meaningful, excellent life. We’ve got to become educated, to move past shallow opinions to a true understanding of what we believe. Moreover, we’ve got to develop the skills needed to propel us forward, be it interpersonal skills, business know-how, communication and writing–in my case, all of the above. University is good, but not necessary. Quality books and audios are much cheaper, and readily available.
3. Build a Community
It has been said that you are the results of the books you read and the people you associate with. It’s important to assemble a team of people around you so you can encourage each other, learn from one another, and shore up each other’s weaknesses. I have a community of writers around me who’ve encouraged me and have taught me everything from the mechanics of writing to business and marketing. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them, and six months or a year from now, I will be much better because of them. They speak truth to me.
4. Make an Impassioned Plea
Let your voice be heard. Talk about what is important to you. Write letters to your government representatives write to editors, blog, post on Facebook and Twitter, and talk to your friends. Do this with gentleness and respect, and the deepest understanding you can muster.
I denounce the use of guilt tactics to try to wake us up. Guilt is a lousy fertilizer for growing spines. But I don’t condemn that every blog is talking about Robin Williams and the slaughter in Iraq. I wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise.
Let your voice be heard, but don’t be satisfied with just speaking. Reach out–with your gifts, your connections, and your knowledge.
“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can,”–Sir Sidney Smith.
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