Friday, February 24, 2012

"The world is just too messed up for me to take care of it..."

A few months ago when I was having a conversation with a good friend about politics, he told me he wasn't paying attention to what the presidential candidates were up to anymore because he had given up on our country completely. His proposed solution to his frustration was to find work outside of the country as soon as possible. 

        "If you dislike the way our country is run," I said, "Why don't you work to change it instead of running away? Why don't you take action to fix what you're frustrated with?"
        "The world is just too messed up for me to take care of it," he replied.

I've heard variations of this phrase uttered from my friends' and family members' lips a thousand times and I know I've said it to myself as well.

It's ridiculously easy to go about life thinking the problems in the world are too big and you are too small to make an impact. I went through elementary, middle, and high school believing that injustice was some kind of dark monster; but it was a dark monster that lived inside someone else's closet and was therefore, not my responsibility to take care of.

But one day, during my first semester of college, my mind whispered, "What if that dark monster was attacking your neighbor, your friend, your sister? Or, what if the monster was attacking you, and the rest of the world glanced over and saw your terror and pain, but did nothing."
 "Sorry, Alexandra" the world would say, "but that monster is just too big, ugly, and scary for us to face. Besides, it's attacking you and not us so I guess you're on your own this time."

I realized then that when we become aware of an injustice and do nothing, even if we are not the ones causing it, our non-action causes it to continue. Injustice exists because of hatred but is sustained by the nourishment of indifference. We may not be the reason a problem occurs, but in denying responsibility, we become the reason for the problem's survival.
Yes, the monster of injustice is big. Yes, it can be ugly. Yes, it can be scary. 
But it only lives when you feed it.

The minute you choose to open your eyes, the minute you choose to care instead of abiding in the comfort of indifference, the minute you realize that the people the dark monster oppresses are, in fact, your neighbors, your friends, your siblings and yourself, the dark monster begins to starve.

Injustice is huge, but nobody said you had to take it on all at once. Start small. Start with opening your eyes. Start with caring. Start with not turning your back on someone else's suffering. Start with standing up and speaking out about what you know to be true. Start with getting one person out of injustice's clutches. Because, if you start small, others will follow your example and pretty soon the world will be taking over injustice instead of injustice taking over the world.

You can submit yourself to the notion that the world is just too messed up for you to take care of it. Or, you can decide for yourself that the world is just too messed up for you not to take care of it.

Giving Back the Big Half

My desire to give back to the world stems from an unexpected source. It began years ago with a sweet bundle of delicious batter and scores of smooth chocolate chips, baked into mouth-watering treats by my mother.  After cooking up a storm in the kitchen, she allowed me, my sister, and my dad to have one cookie after every dinner. This kept everyone content for a few days, until, at one unfavorable dinner, we faced the ugly reality of having only a single cookie remaining. My parents graciously bowed out of the competition, leaving the prize for the more animated candidates. Thinking they were clever, my parents split the cookie in two pieces so that my sister and I could each have our share. With a quick glance at the cookie my parents had tried so hard to break evenly in half, I immediately determined that one portion was slightly larger than the other.
“I want the big half!” I exclaimed, and snatched the piece I had appointed for myself off of the plate. My sister, being seven years older than I am, understood that the half inch or so of extra cookie she was missing out on wasn’t a huge loss and ate her portion of the cookie without complaint.
Nobody thought anything of my behavior that day. I was only four or five, and wasn’t yet expected to have grasped the concept of how to be selfless. I probably wouldn’t even remember this incident today if there hadn’t been at least a hundred others that were precisely like it. Throughout my childhood and early adolescence, every time anything was split between my sister and I, my share had to be bigger or better.
Now, when I look back at my behavior, I am disappointed in the sense of entitlement I possessed. My family laughs at my childhood obsession of getting the “big half” and don’t see it as any indicator of my current character. I was a child then, and know better now.
However, what truly frightens me is that my childhood passion for always getting the most, is present in so much of our culture. As children in the western world, we learn practically as infants the value of owning things. We notice when our parents buy us more toys than we could ever play with and when they buy excessive amounts of their own kinds of toys. We are bred by the societal norms of excess and learn that if we have money, we are entitled to luxury first and foremost.
Wanting the “big half” might have been a cute thing for a little girl, but I watch now as millions of adults, corporations, and nations scream, “I want the big half!” at each other and the cute factor just isn’t there. In fact, when it’s put on a larger scale, this fixation with getting the most of everything, all of the time, becomes a driving force for international discord.
The problem with the little girl who always grabs the big half, is that she only notices what she has gotten and never what she has taken away from her sister. As a first-world nation, we have been known to take abundant resources for ourselves without thinking at all about the rest of the planet.  We then we congratulate ourselves for what we have gained, believing the rest of the world should too. Yet as we celebrate our new found wealth, we choose not to see the immense poverty that plagues so much of our world. We keep taking because it feels good, it feels powerful, and eventually it seems necessary. All of us who are blinded by material wealth cannot grasp the concept of what it truly is to live within our means and as a result, others, who we conveniently turn our backs on, have no means by which to live.
Perhaps even worse, is that our “big half” keeps getting bigger. Our sense of consequence has all but evaporated. We see the resources that were never meant to be completely ours as being infinite and we continue to rob the earth. Our “big half” is growing, but our sisters and brothers who we are supposed to be sharing with, are getting less, and less, and less. We think of ourselves as living in freedom because we think we have the most, and our vision is so impaired by our sense of entitlement, that we cannot see why those who we take from do not praise us for our gain.
America takes pride in being free. Yet, freedom means nothing when it’s confined by the borders of a nation. Freedom is not sitting back and living in a country with a relative amount of justice. Freedom is opening your eyes to those who are oppressed by injustice, and advocating for them. Galatians 5:13 expresses true freedom perfectly: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give back enough to counteract all of the excess I’ve taken from the world in ignorance. But, my life would be meaningless if I spent it dwelling in the guilt of the past. When you live in ignorance, you have an excuse for selfish actions. When you have been made aware, however, you are guilty if you do nothing.
I want to do something. I want to serve those in need. I want to advocate for those whose voices are drowned out by prejudice and misconception. I want to invest my resources in someone else’s life, even if the only resource I have to invest is my heart. I want to love my neighbors in the best ways I know how. I want to learn, every day, how to be a better human being.  And if I can do all of this and more to invest myself in the world, then, and only then, can I possibly be on my way to giving back the big half.
Hello new blog friends! I am Alexandra, a 19 year-old Iowa college student who lives in a wacky town called Fairfield. Over the years I have become more and more passionate about giving back to the world. I am interested in education, youth empowerment, eradicating global poverty, and social justice issues. I will be using this blog to document my own experiences, ideas, and visions about service and hope to hear ideas from others along the way!