I am a serious person and become consumed with all the challenges I face day-to-day, along with the challenges we face across the globe. It is quite easy for me to feel overwhelmed, depressed and feeling a need to do something about these issues. It is the double-edged sword for being a caring and compassionate person. A wonderful aspect of character to have since we are motivated to help others and make a positive difference, however, the downside is easily becoming overwhelmed which can then render in my case, for me to be less effective or ridden with guilt. I can see why those in the helping professions have to develop a degree of indifference to survive in their roles.
However, it is easy for the pendulum to swing where we then become callous and less caring, or resort to some form of unhealthy way to release this internal struggle. A personal experience I had with this was while volunteering in Africa in the early 90’s. I was in South Africa and working with one of the townships outside of Capetown. If you type in “Soweto Township” in Google Images, you can get an idea of what these townships look like. A sea of shacks crammed together amongst a lot of famine, disease, crime, etc.
I was quickly overwhelmed with learning about all the challenges the residents faced on a daily basis. Seeing first hand the impact broke through the rose colored lens I tended to see life through. In my book I share the experience of meeting another Michael and hearing a gut-wrenching story. When I met my ride home at the end of the day, I realized that I was fortunate that I could leave, when the thousands here could not. I told the person that arranged this for me that I did not want to go back. I had shut down to attempt to protect me from this reality.
She smiled and stated how glad she was that I shared this with her. She told me to go back to the hostel I stayed at, and consider the following story before running away from this. It was the story about the hundreds of starfish that washed up on the beach.
As a man walked by, he saw a child in the distance. The closer he came, he realized that the child was throwing the starfish back into the ocean. The man approached the child and asked him why he was doing this since there were too many starfish. The child responded by picking up one of the starfish and saying that he could make a difference with this one, and threw it into the sea.
It helped me to put everything back in perspective. I returned for the next few days and continued to simply listen to their stories. The difference I made was not anything I could do for them, but simply that I cared enough to be there and hear what they had to say. It was one of the most profound experiences I had in my life. I learned a lot about life that week. I am still challenged with becoming overwhelmed with situations, but I get over it quicker. I am learning to put a greater trust in a belief that all is in order (often easier said than done).
For those err’ing on the side of caring, thank you for what you do, and just caring enough to want to make a difference and make some effort. I know that this is not easy to do, but the feeling associated with living this way produces a greater meaning than I believe we could get via any other way.