By Tom Peterson
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed when we see injustice, greed and a broken world with so many needs. Sometimes it’s just too much and we become paralyzed.
Here’s a freeing thought: There’s no way you can save the world. No matter how much you’d like or how hard you try it’s just not possible. Providing clean water and sanitation to India’s 638,000 villages is probably beyond you. That’s just one of ten million needs. So take a deep breath. It’s not up to you.
You feel a tug to make a difference in the world; you want to “do more.” So how do you move from saving “the world” to something more manageable?
Focus on Your Square
Asked how to avoid becoming overwhelmed, theologian Marcus Borg said, “It’s like being part of a quilter’s group. Don’t worry about the entire quilt; just focus on your square.” As we focus our energy, we can be effective in big ways. And we can rest assured that millions of others are also working on their patch, plugging away at all those other causes. And together our patches will create a quilt of wholeness and beauty.
Chances are you already know what you want to work on. But if not, ask yourself a few questions to narrow your focus:
- What makes your blood boil? What do you see in the news or in your community that really upsets you? Anger may not be the best starting point, but many great movements began as a reaction to wrongs. Are you willing to do more than criticize? Can you add something constructive? Is there a wrong you want to right?
- What are passionate about? What do excites you? In a positive way? What makes your heart sing? How do you follow your bliss? What’s good news for you?
- Do you imagine a better way? Do you hear yourself saying, If we would only…? Do you envision a way something could be, imagine an improvement? Are you frustrated because something could be done, but it’s not. Or you’re excited because you can see what it could be. Have you seen something work somewhere else and said, we could do that here?
- Would you like to join in? Do you see a group working on a cause and think, I wish I were like those people, or I should get involved with that? Maybe you simply have to make some time or get outside your comfort zone to take the first step.
- What question about our world fascinates you? Do you find yourself constantly wondering and exploring how to improve something?
- Finally, is this cause worth my time and energy? You should be able to say, absolutely, yes.
Find ways to be quiet enough to hear the “still small voice” or gentle whispers. The answer may be a calling from your inner voice. But you have to find places and times to be still long enough to hear it. This exploration may take some time: with journaling, conversations with friends or trusted wise people. You’re trying to decide where you want to invest significant time. But don’t take forever. At some point, if you’re still not sure, get involved in the issue that most closely matches your leanings.
Once you’ve decided, find some way to get involved. You may like to start small, sticking your toe in the water, or you may just jump all the way in. How we get involved is as varied as we are. Try it on. Work on it for a while to see if this is, in fact, good news for you
Pick Your Issue: The Most Important Patch
Back to the quilt: Some of us, myself included, have a personality that says, if I choose this, I can’t do that. (In the Meyers Briggs, this is P.) We don’t want to miss anything, so put off deciding and end up doing nothing. Instead, imagine as you work on your square that you’re at a quilting bee. You’re not missing the other squares because while you (and your co-activists) work on your square, others around you working on theirs. You are sharing, listening, part of this larger community. You’re also finding ways to work together, because all good causes are connected.
Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
You won’t solve all the world’s problems. But you could, for example, focus on homeless mothers with children in your town—with shelter, counseling, school work, getting a job. For these struggling mothers and kids you’ve created the most important patch in the quilt there is.
Quilt photo, Glenys Gaske, Creative Commons.