Do what you can for others, even if it's not enough

Do what you can for others, even if it's not enough

Existence comes with inevitable interdependence and responsibility.  You may think and act on an individual basis, but you are inextricably connected to the other people who share your society and the world.  You are an individual within a collective.  The other people that surround you, whether you know them closely or not, can help shape your beliefs, desires, and pastimes by example and antithesis.  Both unknowingly and deliberately, they give you these things and you do the same for them; your relationship is reciprocal until something catastrophic happens, something tips the balance.     

In the past weeks three hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, and more legislative woes have devastated thousands of people in the world both near and far from me.  I have been fortunate to have remained mostly untouched by these disasters—but by no means unaffected.  

It hurts to think about the world’s pain, and it is impossible to comprehend it on the scale on which it truly exists. Yet these feelings, born out of love, fill my mind with apprehension and guilt, asking questions that are hard to answer.  What will happen today?  How do I reconcile my own worries over an upcoming exam with the knowledge that cities of people have lost their homes to earth and water?  What can I do about it?  Am I doing the right thing to help?  Am I reacting to this news in the right way?  

I seek the empathy necessary to understand and reach out to other people directly affected, those other members of my collective: my region, my nation and my world. With time, my desire to see beyond myself and understand and help has only become more overwhelming.  It only takes a moment to realize that it is impossible to alleviate the situation completely or to reach everyone you hope to.  It is impossible to prioritize what aid you can give to all those who may need it in a way that will totally eradicate your personal guilt and those inevitable, egotistical feelings of relief that your own life has not been subjected to these changes. 

I believe a partial solution to all of these problems—both the individual and collective—can be found by trying to recreate part of the original reciprocal balance by creating an atmosphere of empathetic awareness and action. The first step forward, acknowledgement, is the most difficult. You must come to terms with the fact that nothing you do on your own will ever be enough, but that something is better than nothing. You, with the means and the desire, can achieve it. This will allow you to face the questions that your feelings may ask of you and work toward answering them.  

You can then act on your new conclusions by reaching out to steady yourself and those who have been thrown off balance. Stabilizing may be easier for you than them, but it is still ever so worthwhile, whether it is a small donation to a relief effort or a weekend trip to help rebuild.  Do what you can in the way that you know how, no matter who you are or what means you have.  All empathy, all change, all humanity begins with the individual, but it can only be realized through the collective.  

Sophie Williams is a senior majoring in biology and English. Her column runs biweekly. 

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