We, the human race, have an irrational ability to attach more hope and courage and sense of safety to one another's good traits. We also have the ability to shield ourselves from pain by shutting out the bad bits. Pain can lead to despair, and let's face it, society's problems aren't MY problems; I don't have to be the one to fix them. Our instinct for self preservation allows us to rationalize and to tuck away everything that's wrong with mankind in some dark corner of our brains.
Here's the thing, though -- if we numb ourselves to the problems, we MAKE ourselves powerless to generate change, healing, growth, and compassion. I know, I've done it all my life and still do. Portland was referred to in a recent article as the most racist city in the U.S. Huh, I didn't know my city was racist. Well, I'M not, and that's all I'm responsible for, right? I can't fix the whole city. So I pack that information away in that dark recess of my brain and go back to my privileged white life, where even though I don't earn a living, I have a home, heat, food, medical care, a car, pets, clothes, choices, freedom, and when I got pulled over yesterday for making an illegal U-turn, I didn't get a ticket, nor did I expect to. I blindly accept my privileges as rights, and conveniently forget that I have great wealth compared to most.
I don't believe that we need to let go of hope and courage and see one another more rationally. Rose-colored glasses keep many of us from hopelessness. But I DO believe that we need to open our hearts up to the bad in the world, to the social conditions that drive people to drug addictions, instead of treating the addicts like they're someone else's problem. We have to FEEL the knowledge that 30% of our children are going hungry while we enjoy that nice Cabernet. We need to FEEL one another's pain, and let it hurt us too, before anything will change. The pain motivates and empowers us, gets us off the couch and wanting to do something to help. Anything.
We CAN change the world. One dollar at a time. One sandwich at a time. One food delivery at a time. One kind word at a time. All it takes is being willing to feel the pain of our shortcomings and society's failures. We need to be brave and strong and SEE the injustices so that we can speak up, take small actions, and inspire one another to be better.
Artwork was commissioned by UNICEF.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.