But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting the good fight.
“Tired” is an understatement.
“Exhausted” is the only word that makes any sense to describe my feelings toward the overall state of things. My life’s irony is that my career and passions are founded in the media industry, and it’s media that gives me the most day-to-day grief. News (“fake” or otherwise), social media, and the internet in general. A hot mess of misinformation, unrelenting anger, misplaced hate, and a sea of hearts clinging to a slowly deflating life raft of hope for the future. Yet, media is breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me and for most of us, in one form or another.
When this piece was written, “children in cages” was one of the top pre-populations if you typed “children” into the Google search bar. “Pulse nightclub shooting” was, two years later, one of the top pre-populations if you typed in “pulse.” And, unsurprisingly, “immigration lawyer” was one of the top choices for “immigration.” All of these are unsurprising, to be honest. This is the overall state of things. This is exhausting. The pot that is me is steadily overflowing with empathy for people I don’t know and will likely never meet, and with no real knowledge of where I can spill it that it would be of any real use, I keep disappointedly cleaning up the mess and making it over again. Usually by drinking too much wine on a weeknight.
Picture this: In place of “children in cages” or “children separated from parents” in the photo above is “children see academic growth.” Wouldn’t that be nice? To have quantifiable evidence that the next generation of humans to run the country has solid foundations of science, language, history, and ethics upon which to base opinions, morals, goals, and actions? Instead, we have quantifiable evidence that education systems are a joke, and that there are children that may never see their families again.
My generation (the millennials, if it wasn’t apparent by the existential angst and the Bloody Mary in my photo) is the meme generation. Throw some text on a widely-recognized image, and you’ve got an entire digital culture. We make oversimplified, biting jokes of such serious topics as educational failure, drug dependency, and political divide to send out into the world via the internet in hopes that someone will go “lol, same.” In hopes that for a second, we’ll feel less alone in the helplessness that is caring so much, and not at all at the same time because it hurts to care. In hopes that we can just find someone to relate to as we stumble through life in search of a way to truly make a difference, wondering if we’ll ever find it. Many of us have big goals, but that doesn’t mean we never feel small, and self-deprecating humor seems to ease the blow of realizing that we ARE small in the eyes of a good portion of those who share our world.
Fighting the Good Fight
While it’s exponentially easier in the day to day to feign callousness and apathy, that is just not realistic long-term. I do feel small a lot of the time, but I have a big heart, a scattered brain, and a deep yearning for the end of complacency. So, the question becomes this: Which one? Which good fight can I fight from my small corner of existence? The fight for fundamental human rights for all? The fight for immigration reform? The fight for equal treatment of the LGBTQ+ community? The fight for bodily autonomy? The fight for income equality? The fight for a livable minimum wage, to name but a few? There are so many good fights to fight, and it’s utterly overwhelming. How can we be expected to win all these fights before we’re spread so thin that we’re making no real progress toward winning any of them? How can one regular human make a difference in the many lives affected by losing these fights daily?
There is no easy answer. The fact remains that there are so many people who walk through this life with no real understanding of what equality means, because a lack thereof has never been an issue for them. There are so many people that have never had to worry about being shot dead by a police officer for merely existing in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are so many people that have never had to worry about where their next full meal will come from, and thus ration whatever food is left as proportionally as possible between them and their children. There are so many people that never have been and never will be denied a good job with a substantial wage because of their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. And, unfortunately, a lot of the people making decisions that affect us all ARE these people.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the struggling if you’ve never struggled.
This is why, I believe, a little bit of empathy can go a long way. There is beautiful simplicity in choosing to say, “I will try to feel what you’re feeling and be here for you in the way you need me to be.” Make the conscious decision to put yourself in someone else’s worn and tattered shoes. Embrace the understanding that empathizing is, in itself, fighting the good fight, the one against the toxic “every man for himself” mentality. That fight is at the root of many of the good fights there are to fight.
“This is the way things have always been” is an incredibly dangerous way of thinking, and it must be destroyed it as it applies to racism, sexism, stigma of mental health and substance abuse, and a whole host of other societal problems. This starts by empathizing with instead of passing judgment against people that have faced these struggles, even if you haven’t. Even if I haven’t. Even if we, as a majority, haven’t. It can absolutely be exhausting, especially when it never seems like enough to change the game. It takes way less effort to judge with the majority than support the minority in the face of adversity. It takes way more effort to compassionately swim upstream.
But the beautiful thing about compassion is that it by no means has to be given on a grandiose scale every time. It’s way too easy to convince oneself that all the problems need to be fixed at once and that one’s efforts have to be immediately globally visible, but that is simply unrealistic, and not the case at all. Even when I do feel overwhelmed by all that needs fixing, I am able to take solace in just being able to be someone’s pillow on which to rest their head after a rough day. If someone in my life is fighting any of those good fights on the daily for their right to exist as they are, I will gladly stand alongside them, if for a day or for an hour.
We can choose to use media for good and not evil. We can choose to break free of the cynicism it causes us to have toward the seemingly ill-fated direction our world is heading. It’s not always so bad to think small. Take thirty seconds to send a Facebook message and check on your friend who appears to be struggling. Take twenty seconds to comment on their photo and make them feel beautiful and loved. Take ten seconds to read and share their post about a cause that is important to them. As cliche as it sounds, every little bit counts. I have to remind myself of that frequently, but it’s the damn truth. We can all take solace in that.
It is true that there is strength in numbers. Standing alongside each other is half the battle, and when we do, we have all the more strength to keep fighting.