Sunday, November 15, 2015

On changing the world: don't overthink it

With the news of the Paris attacks still overwhelming my brain Saturday, I spent lunchtime in downtown Dallas' Tent City where homeless men and women live under bridges. A friend had asked me to come, and a bunch of us were serving chili cheese dogs. The group I was working with was a religious one, and while I do have a faith of my own, I prefer to serve my chili cheese dogs unadorned. But sometimes we overthink this stuff: it was cold outside, and people were getting food. For the men and women I talked with--the ones eating the dogs--it was a win.

When the massive thing happens, the overwhelming tragedy, many of us want to help in some way while also feeling paralyzed at the enormity of it all. I remember this feeling after the Ceaucescu revolution in Romania in the late 80s. That was when I left my job as a journalist to become a foreign aid worker--and ultimately discovered just how little one person can accomplish in the face of overwhelming need.

Because the suffering in the world IS overwhelming, and our efforts are so small and so imperfect. We worry about our motives and about our ability to do something meaningful. We even worry we might do the wrong thing, be in the way. But you see, that's not a reason--it will never be a reason--to do nothing. Romania, the Twin Towers, Katrina, Paris, Kenya... If you want to be a person, you can't let that feeling of being overwhelmed win. You go out and you do something, however small. You tip the balance of suffering in the world a tiny, tiny bit.

The people of Paris are opening their doors to one another today. They're not huddling in their homes discussing the state of the world--they're going out and giving blood. You can't fix Paris. I can't fix Paris. But there's plenty of suffering to go around, plenty of need.

Find a food bank or a blood bank. Start a recurring donation to that fantastic French organization Médecins Sans Frontières (you may know them as Doctors Without Borders) or some other nonprofit that goes where you can't. When we feel overwhelmed by suffering, we find something to do, something to give, right where we are. That's how we don't let the bad guys win.

So go through your closet and find the clothes you can donate. Or go through your cupboard and do the same for a food bank. Find a group feeding the homeless and go out for even a couple of hours. Grab some blankets and head down to Dawson Street because it's cold out there right now. Don't wait to do something significant because paralysis will set in. Do something small, and then do it again when you can. Don't overthink it.

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