As a nation, why do some of us feel so much pain these days?
Some of us can’t ignore the problems facing our fellow human beings. We see and feel the problems that affect not only ourselves, but the people we share this planet with. It’s been said that wisdom brings worry. Wisdom is burdensome. By looking directly at the problems around us we feel the weight of those problems. By contrast, it’s also said that ignorance is bliss, which means that if you don’t want to feel the burdens of others, just don’t look at them. Ignore the problems of the world. It’s blissful and it releases you from believing that you might have to step up and help.
So I guess, in summary, we can say that if you’re feeling burdened, then you’re expressing wisdom and a desire to help. And if you’re not feeling burdened, then you’re expressing the opposite of wisdom—which is foolishness. The fool’s head is buried blissfully in the sand where no urgency is driving a need to help, while the heads and hearts of the wise are alert and are looking directly at the problems that need fixing. The pain is from wanting to help but not knowing how.
This world is undeniably in trouble. Collectively we are suffering the opiate epidemic, social injustice, political infighting, the disgusting greed of billionaires, the rising instances of wildfires, bigger hurricanes, more frequent tornadoes, larger floating continents of garbage, and a host of other unresolvable problems. Because of these overwhelming issues, many of us are hurting in ways we had hoped we would never have to hurt. The pain of hopelessness is manifesting its mayhem through a rise of suicides, mass shootings, and through unprecedented numbers of citizens on antianxiety medications. Even if we ourselves are not hit with any major troubles, we still feel pain as we helplessly witness these troubles impact our loved ones, friends, and fellow human beings. For those of us who are wise, we feel our human connection with those who suffer. We know the threats are real, even if those threats haven’t yet struck our own homes. But for those of us who are fools, well…we choose not to feel anything, and we don’t care about those who do.
Pain is a biological mechanism meant to bring about change. My fingers hurt when I need to let go of something hot. My foot hurts when I need to shake out a pebble. If my chest hurts, I may need to see a physician and navigate some changes in my stress, diet, or exercise. When my heart hurts for fellow human beings who are being treated unfairly because of their gender, or their color, or their mental health, or an addiction to a drug, or their financial misfortunes, it hurts me also. Why? because I’m a good person who excels in wisdom and emotional intelligence. It means I understand that we’re all connected and I carry with me a strong conscience that I can use to make a change that will help someone. As a person with conscience, I want for you the same things I want for myself; Happiness, Health, Comfort, Safety, Peace. My anxiety rises not because I’m broken, but because I feel as if the problems before me are too big for me to change. I feel impotent. Helpless. The wisdom of who I am drives pain which is supposed to drive change, but since I can’t fix the problem from my limited circle of control, the pain becomes anxiety and ultimately depression.
Even though it hurts, I am not sorry that I feel the pain. It’s proof that I’m not ignorant. I’m not a sociopath. It’s proof that I am maturing into wisdom. It proves I’m not a fool.
If you, like me, are feeling pain and anxiety because of these huge, unresolvable issues, don’t let it defeat you. You feel the pain because you are a good, wise person. If pain’s purpose is to promote change, then relieve your pain by finding some small way to become part of the cure. Even if you feel it’s a tiny contribution to a huge problem, something is better than nothing.
“Love not put into action is only a word.” —Mother Theresa.
Your contribution doesn’t have to be big enough to fix the world. You alone cannot change the leadership of your country. You alone cannot stop global climate change. But you alone can influence your community. Your neighborhood. Your office space. If pain is telling you to change something, then change something. Relieve the anxiety of feeling helpless by becoming helpful. By knowing you’ve done what you can to help bring about a positive change within your own small circle of influence, your body will respond positively. You can relieve some of the anxiety in your own chest. You can’t fix the world but you can do small things that improve the lives of one person or one family within arm’s reach of you. You can strike up a conversation with someone who feels utterly alone. You can donate $25 to a charity that feeds kids on the weekends in your own neighborhood’s public school. Feeding one hungry person is a huge gift to them even though it’s a small act to you. If you really need a boost, join a community group that does good in an area that you feel personally drawn to. Spend an hour helping clean a park. Donate the shoes you don’t wear anymore. Donate a can or box of food in a drop box. Work in the food bank one day a week. The opportunities to help, large and small, are endless.
The pain you’re feeling for others sets you above those who don’t feel it. Narcissists and sociopaths who feel no connection to others fake joy for you to see, but don’t be tricked into believing they are happy on the inside. They feel no connection to others and therefor they live a life alone with a dry and dark heart. Anything they do for another is nothing but a momentary transaction usually meant to get something in return. They feel absolutely no connection to any person–unless they want something from that person. As soon as they get what they want, the connection is broken. You are the lucky one who feels pain because you feel your permanent, soulful connection to other human souls–whether you want something from them or not. You’re better than the average person and your body is calling on you to make a small change somewhere. Don’t ignore the calling, and above all, don’t let your pain become a point of empty suffering. It’s a calling from your biology, from your inner wisdom, to become a tiny voice for a small change that is needed for someone near you. It’s something for you to be proud of. Use it to contribute, in any small way, to making this a better world for the people you love, even if those people are strangers. Even if the pain doesn’t completely subside, it will improve. It will be worth it when you see that someone benefitted from your willingness to respond to your body’s calling.
~ James F Johnson