How you can help those in Paris and Lebanon.
A lot of people are upset that the recent attacks in Paris received more attention on the news than similar attacks in Lebanon. I understand why they are upset. It feels wrong and unfair that our culture privileges some lives over others. I think there’s a positive angle here — a dynamic that, once widely understood, can help us dramatically improve the world.
If you were made aware of every outrageous thing that happened over the course of a day — it would probably cripple you into inaction. I know I have a hard time functioning whenever I think about horribly unfair things that happen, when the strong push around the weak. None of those horrible things are happening directly to me, but I experience things more intensely than most people. Because I feel hurt when others get hurt, it can be debilitating if I zoom in on those thoughts of how unfair and cruel the world can be.
I’ve learned something from all that fixating on the unfairness of the world.
If you’ve ever ridden on an airplane, you should be familiar with the phrase “please secure your oxygen mask before helping others.”
You get why that is, right? You can’t possibly help others if you don’t have oxygen yourself. You’ve got to take care of that first, otherwise you won’t be able to help anyone else.
If the world is an airplane, you’ve first got to put on your mask, which means you are capable of being OK even if the whole word isn’t. The next step is to put on the masks of the people near you, and then they can repeat the process.
We hear more about the suffering of people two seats over from us, than we do about people who are ten rows away. You can’t possibly put on the mask of someone who is ten rows away — even if you can see them struggling. The best thing you can do in that case is make sure there’s not somebody right next to you whose mask isn’t on. Maybe the people ten rows away are struggling, because someone right next to you didn’t get their mask on, and they can’t’ help their neighbors, and so on.
With recursion — the helped helping the helpless until everyone has help — we can fix everything in the world.
Paris is closer to the American social graph, so Paris gets more coverage when viewed by people who are closer to Paris. I wish the graph were fully connected, too — but until it is, selective outrage is a way of ensuring you can still care when your mother dies, because you haven’t been burnt out mourning the mothers of people you don’t know.
The social graph isn’t fully connected yet — but we are getting there. Those who are more connected receive more attention when bad things happen to them. If you’re reading this, you certainly on the more connected side of things.
I used to suffer a lot in life, mostly because I wasn’t making choices that would get me ahead. I was mad at the world — and I told myself that I didn’t want to do well if others weren’t doing well.
This attitude was bad for me — but it was much worse for my friends and loved ones. The people who love me want to see me doing well. When I grew to understand that putting myself last was a way of putting myself above my parents, above my friends, above my family — I could see how selfish I had been.
If the stories in Paris, or Beirut, or anywhere else, hurt you — if they are debilitatingly painful — what you can do to help is to be kind to the people in your immediate vicinity. If your friend is upset, talk to them, comfort them, distract them for a while. If you go out to eat, be kind to your waiter. If someone cuts you off in traffic, just kindly smile instead of getting angry.
Call your parents. Tell them you love them. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and tell them you care about them and you’re glad they’re alive. If we all do that, we’ll help the whole world.
Of course we need to care and be concerned for people who are distant. But there is currently suffering all over the world — how many people die in a given day, how many mothers left without their children, how many children lose a parent?
There is an ocean of suffering, probably inside of you — are you sure your oxygen mask is on tight? Are you OK, even if the world isn’t? If you know me personally and think I can help, then please talk to me. All it takes is practice over a long time, and you can reach a place where you accept the suffering of the world, even as you long for it to change.
“Holy People” are often thought of as special, different, or unusual. I think they are just healthy people, in a world where most of us are suffering emotional trauma that hasn’t healed.
It is too much for any one person to bear the suffering of the whole world on their mind. Fortunately, every time we interact with each other, we have the capacity to lessen each other’s loads.
Smile for each other. Be kind today — and every day. That’s how we defeat terrorism. That’s how we build the kind of world we all want to live in.