Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It’s easy to feel discouraged and upset right now.
From Covid-19 to all the various reactions to it, from lost jobs and failed businesses to sick and dying friends, from systemic injustice to bigotry and prejudice, from unfit law enforcement officers (and the people who hire, retain, and fail to train them) to riots and fires in the streets – it seems like the list of ways the world has gone wrong is truly endless. And it feels like it’s getting worse every day.
Did you see the meme going around about how the Yellowstone Caldera is scheduled to erupt in June, a zombie uprising will happen in July, and then underground crab-monsters that eat people would be emerging in August? No…? Well, what about the one with the woman peering out a window, trying to figure out which chapter of Revelation we’ll be doing today?
Funny as such memes might be, in a bitter-laughter sort of way, they do illustrate the underlying reality that people are frightened and unhappy right now. And while we might not all agree on exactly what has gone wrong or how to fix that specific thing, I think we can all agree that it’s a scary and unhappy time.
But maybe there’s some cause for hope, too.
When the world seems to have gone off its collective rocker, what can good people do? What can we do to get our country back on track?
We can choose to “sweep in front of our own doors,” that’s what. We can deal fairly with the people around us. We can choose to speak up about injustices that we see, and we can choose to listen compassionately to others. We can be determined to protect ourselves and the people we care about, and also willing to give a helping hand to people who need it.
Want some specific ideas? I can do that – but keep in mind that my worries, my resources, and my priorities might not be the same as your worries, resources, and priorities. That’s one of the reasons specific calls-for-action don’t always get as much traction as we’d like. God gives each of us such different visions because no one of us can possibly ever see everything that needs to be done.
For many years, my deep vision was to help vulnerable people learn to protect themselves from violent crime. That remainsvery close to my heart especially as I see the world becoming more unsettled every day. If that’s your call too, I want to challenge you on one important thing: build your own competency first! Don’t become one of the all-too-many well meaning people who endanger others on the range or in the dojo without even realizing it. Do the work to become competent, then turn around and teach others. And if you’re not yet ready to teach, perhaps while you’re learning more you can also help people you care about get their training from qualified others.
Maybe you’re concerned about food security. It’s tempting to sit and worry, but maybe it would be better to pick up a packet of seeds and plant a garden, or learn how to can and preserve food. Maybe you’ll even be able to help a neighbor get started with the same skills. Or you might end up at the food bank, helping keep it organized and ready to serve your community.
How does your social media feed look right now? Angry, obnoxious, hopeless? Mine did, too. One day, I got truly fed up with the negative energy the computer was feeding me every day, and I decided to do something about it. I did not go on a rampage and cull everyone who disagreed with me. That might have felt temporarily satisfying (at the expense of cutting me off from people I care about and whose viewpoints I need to hear). Instead I did something that turned out much more useful in the long run: I made a quiet little commitment to myself that I would post something positive – something true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, something excellent or worth praising – every time I felt even the slightest irritation with anyone else online.
By the way, here’s a lovely thing I came across online one day. My friend Terry Trahan wrote,
“If you disagree with me, don’t like what I post, see the world different than I do… Do not unfriend me. We need to keep talking and communicating. We are the ones that need to Do the Work. You need to learn how my side sees, and I need to learn from you.”
Isn’t that beautiful? We need more of that. We’re all so worried about giving the people around us a good talking-to, but I think what most people really need more than anything else is a good listening-to.
If it’s your passion to help others, there’s always somewhere to pitch in. Maybe it will be the humane society or a soup kitchen, at your church or a community garden, in a senior center or at a youth sports activity or self defense classes. Maybe you’ll just be there to help a friend clean up a mess. Almost certainly,you’ll find some idea I haven’t even thought of because the limits of my vision do not define the limits of the world. Start with what you see and go from there.
None of this will change the entire world by itself. But when each of us do the things we know to be right – when each of us pick up a broom and help clean up the mess, rather than crying and moaning for someone else to do the work – the world does become a better place. One person, one household, one neighborhood at a time.
Stay safe. Help the people you love stay safe. Reach out to people you care about and help take care of your neighbors.