What are we supposed to do?

This is about more than just us.

Governments all over the world refuse to acknowledge that women are humans, citizens, people. In China they’re forcing abortions, in other countries they restricting and denying abortions (and punish women who manage to survive their illegal abortions). Women are systematically raped and tortured in the Congo. Human beings and animals are starving to death. Entire species of animals are disappearing, forever, at an alarming rate. A child starves to death every five seconds.  Anything edible or non-edible from China you put in your mouth might kill you. the world is in a massive financial crisis. Soldiers and civilians are dying from combat, and even more soldiers kill themselves, unable to wrestle with the complicated mental anguish that results from their service. We’re running out of water. We’re running out of food. We’re living on a planet increasingly rife with radioactive nuclear waste. Intense poverty is killing millions and millions of people struggling to survive in a world where a few have more than they need.

Name a disease. It’s a problem. Name a basic right you cherish. Other people don’t have it. Name something that makes you happy. Most people don’t get that. Name a basic need you had no problem meeting today. Most people don’t even have that.

So what are we supposed to do? That’s not rhetorical. That’s not me pointing you to a website that will solve all this. I’m paralyzed with the breadth and depth of the trouble around me and have no idea where to start.

And I became mired in this paralysis because my friend is on her way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to research the bonobo population there. [You know, the endangered chimpanzee species that is as close to human as any other species (uh-oh I just lost the ignorant “we ain’t no monkeys ‘cuz the world was built in 80 days” crowd…oh well).] And some people are giving her flak, saying that the human suffering on the planet is significant enough that she is wasting her impressive mind and indefatigible desire to help by working with “just” apes.

And my question is, is that what we’re going to bicker about? Not how best to help or how to start, but which cause to choose? Are you kidding me? Choose something, and go freaking make an effort to fix it.

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Gentle David Foster Wallace for college grads

Because so many of my posts about parenting resonnate with exactly this theme, here’s a bit of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address.

“…there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and display. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”  –DFW 2005 Kenyon commencement

(Go read the rest of the speech. It’s really quite compelling as a way of thinking and living as aware and sentient beings rather autopilot automatons).

If you say so, dude. Sacrifice might be the reality and the gift of our nasty, brutish, and short, but the pretense and facade of pretending such things aren’t the reality of our lives makes those sorts of attentive, aware, and disciplined sacrifices feel like chores. Would that I had time to erode the pretense and facade, because being self-aware and present in my day would really rock. But focusing on caring for others in those myriad unsexy ways takes all the time I used to use on self analysis and awareness.

Un-Buddhist of me, i acknowledge. Sorry you’re not here to argue with.