“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” —George Eliot, Middlemarch
World news is terrifying these days, from Brexit to wildfires in Australia to the latest assault on reproductive rights in the US. We feel overwhelmed by the need to respond, and helpless in the face of huge, distant disasters. We can reduce the strain on our nervous system by taking charge of our exposure to news, as well as finding ways to take action locally.
For many of us, bad news can jump out at us any time. Soundbites on TV, broadcasts on the car radio, newsfeeds in the browser, alerts on our phones or watches. When we turn off all the ways news automatically reaches us, we can make choices about how much news we consume, and in what formats.
There are terrible events happening in the world, and at the same time many people are peacefully going about their lives. Most news broadcasts are designed to scare us and keep us on the edge of our seats for the next update. To interrupt that cycle of urgency, we can choose a time to catch up on the main headlines and stop looking when we feel overwhelmed. If something big and important happens, people around us will let us know.
We can seek positive news stories and ask people to share their good news. We can build hopeful narratives to replace the story that everything is doomed.
When we reduce our exposure to panic-inducing news, we free up time and energy for other aspects of our lives, including pitching in to help within our reach. No matter how small, mundane, quirky, or seemingly irrelevant, everyone’s contribution helps make the world a better place.
When we each pick up litter near our homes, we can collectively enjoy a cleaner streetscape. We naturally try to improve local conditions when we feel a sense of community, tribe, or kinship. Even when we feel isolated, we can choose to take more care, and perhaps find a sense of community along the way.
What is within reach varies for each person, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Sometimes our reach is bigger than we imagine. Sometimes our reach is smaller than we demand from ourselves.
Start by giving yourself credit for what you are already doing. Did you grow up in an abusive family? Are you pouring time and energy into healing so that you can stop the cycle of abuse and interact in more positive ways? Each person who turns away from abusive patterns contributes to the overall health of the world. Your healing ripples out to help everyone you interact with.
Do you run a hobby group or tend a garden or post to a blog about your little corner of expertise? Do you cook meals and keep order at home? Do you show up for friends in crisis? Your care contributes to the weave of everyday life for yourself and those who depend on you.
Do you reuse bags and recycle and save energy where you can? Do you take the bus or ride a bike or carpool? As we each turn toward living more sustainably, we add our weight to the tipping point where sustainability is the default. Even though individual actions cannot solve our climate crisis, we can all work to generate less plastic trash and live more lightly on the earth.
We each live more sustainably in some ways and less sustainably in others depending on our needs, capabilities, and situations. If your Inner Critic constantly harps on everything you are doing “wrong,” let it know that you hear it, and check if perhaps it is worried.
When we mend what is within our reach, we improve our world and reduce what we need to discard.
Mending of all sorts takes time, skill, tools, and often money as well. We each have different realms where we already know how to mend or want to learn, and realms where it is too overwhelming or out of our reach. Mending also requires discernment about when something is beyond repair, or not worth the effort for us.
We could physically mend our clothing, our shoes, our tools, and our devices, or pay someone with the expertise to do so. If it is within our budget, we can purchase sturdier items that are repairable rather than disposable.
We could emotionally mend our relationships, asking questions before lashing out, and expressing boundaries before assuming bad intent. If we need to walk away, we could do it with a minimum of harm.
We could mend our own frayed selves, allowing ourselves more rest and nourishment. We could make a practice of appreciating our efforts and improvements. We could notice what does not work in our lives, and make small or large changes toward more ease.
We could make room to be the agent of grace for others.
- Return a lost item anonymously.
- Donate unneeded treasures for someone to delight in finding.
- Give people (including ourselves) slack for reacting out of anxiety or shame, while still expecting respectful treatment.
- Work to use non-oppressive language and treat people with kindness.
- Give positive feedback. Tell people that you see and appreciate their quiet work of mending.
While we cannot fix every looming issue, we might be able to help with one of them. We could take on or join a larger project to mend injustice, solve a problem, or create joy. Our particular combination of skills and interests might make a bigger difference than we expect. For example, C. Todd Kennedy collects and farms rare fruit trees. He has saved roughly half of the US’s stone fruit varieties.
Action sparks hope
When we take small actions within our reach, we restore our sense of being able to affect our world. Not only do we contribute to general improvement for everyone, we also restore our own hope and well-being.
- 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019 by Angus Hervey.
- The Quiet Rescue of America’s Forgotten Fruit by Anne Ewbank describes C. Todd Kennedy’s fruit tree farm in Silicon Valley, California.
[…] (Btw. Sonia Connolly actually has a good response to what you can do even then.) […]