Many people become jaded or give up because they feel like they can’t make a significant difference in the world or even in their own lives. I have felt this way before in my life, as most of us probably have. But I have recognized the senselessness of it, even in a world filled with injustice. I have mentioned this quote before, but I think it’s worth another mention because it’s related to this issue:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” – Howard Zinn
I think this quote is significant for several reasons. Howard Zinn was a great historian and activist. Part of what made him so great was his willingness to not only illuminate the very dark parts of our history, but also shine a light on those trying to make a difference, because he knew this was just as important to keep those efforts going and multiply them. I think it is equally important to shine a light on our own accomplishments, not to be noticed, but so we remember we tried and we succeeded, and we can do it again. Margaret Mead expressed similar beliefs about individual power. She said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
What I think these quotes reflect is that how much difference one person can make is largely determined by their own beliefs about how much difference they can make. Great leaders weren’t born great. They struggled, but they believed enough in what they were doing enough to persist and never give up. Too many people sadly just stop trying because they feel like they can’t make a significant difference. They’ll give in to a job, relationship, or lifestyle they hate. They’ll loathe themselves. They will convince themselves they are their own worst enemy. But this is not the case. Most people do their best, and they are their own best advocates. Even when we are engaged in self-destructive behaviors we don’t like, it doesn’t make sense to just berate ourselves about it, but instead think logically, compassionately and critically about solutions to change.
We are all just still learning everyday how best to treat ourselves and others and reach the world we want. The answers aren’t obvious to all of us. It can be easy to be hard on yourself when you’re not in a place you want to be in life. But valuing your good traits is just as important as working on your not so great ones. The potential for change will always exist. But only with relentless determination, compassion, and critical thinking can that change come, so never give up. There is incredible potential in the world. It’s worth working for.
Some people take the permanent solution to temporary problems and take their own lives. Too many good people have attempted suicide or killed themselves, including friends of mine, friends of friends, and relatives, so this is a personal issue for me. I think it is for all of us in some way. I believe it is selfish to kill yourself, because it hurts so many people. Even if you don’t think there are people who care about you, there most likely are. So if you are ever considering suicide, forget about your struggle and hell or heaven if you believe in them. Instead, think about what you will leave behind on this Earth.
That said I will be mad if you kill yourself. I suppose that threat won’t matter much if you’re dead, but I will give an unflattering, bitter eulogy at your funeral. Believe me. Too many people already die. No matter how hard life gets, you have to keep trying because countless people before us and living now have and continue to do so that we can live in a more equal and free world. It should go without saying that those efforts matter, and we ought to continue them because they make sense. Considering more than our own individual selves makes sense. I’ve thought many times about suicide, but two things that always kept me from it is the selfishness of the act and the possibility that there’s nothing after death. Reach out to those who you’re close to or anyone at all before you think about taking your own life.
Look around you. Run if you have to, but keep living and trying. You are not the problem…