Saving the World

You can’t live in this world without hardening your heart. There is suffering everywhere, everywhere, and in this age of globalization, you don’t even have to look for it. It’s there every day, on the news, on Facebook, in the conversations of friends and random strangers on the bus. It’s in the movies we watch and the books we read. It’s everywhere.

You learn not to cry about it. Crying won’t change anything, right? Crying won’t do any good. We learn – well, I’m not sure what you do when you hear about hundreds dying in a fire, or children being shot in a school, or the aftermath of an earthquake, but I don’t let myself sorrow for long. I give myself a moment to mourn, and then I push it to the back of my mind. The words become no more than facts; the lives become no more than numbers. I clean my thoughts of any emotion beyond a small and appropriate sadness.

If I don’t, I get overwhelmed. I can’t afford to dwell on it, because I value my own health and happiness and would not lose them over something that was and is so totally out of my control. It saddens me that I have to push it aside, but I get a lot sadder when I don’t. I get so sad my own life seems puny and pointless in comparison, and that’s not right. My life is all I’ve got, and it is mine to take care of. I can’t neglect it because of a tragedy that I could not avert and cannot now affect.

I’m still young, and at just the right age for idealism; my heart isn’t even all that hard yet. If it were, I wouldn’t have to turn my mind away from thoughts of whatever tragedy I hear about on the news. Thing is, I don’t want my heart to harden. I want to be able to feel compassion for people I’ve never met. I want to be able to do that for the rest of my life.

So what do I do to keep my heart from turning to stone? I could choose a cause to champion, I suppose. I know that works for many people. Trouble is, what cause is worthy? If I choose one cause, I don’t think I’ll have much passion left over for any others. Maybe one or two, but – the world is full of suffering. There are too many causes, and I don’t think I could stand up and say that my poor unfortunates are more important than your poor unfortunates, and mine should get money and food and shelter and water and schooling and love and families and support and yours should get nothing, because we can’t afford to help both and mine are more deserving.

I couldn’t do that. So what do I do? Turn away permanently?

I plan to get rich when I grow up, and I’ve promised myself that a large part of my riches will go to charity. Good charities, well-known ones that are known to be honest and already rich enough to make a difference, and I’ll give them enough of a contribution that they’ll make an even greater difference. But how long should I wait? How long until I’m rich? I mean, currently I have no job, and the only money I get is my monthly allowance. In other words I’m the one living on charity, and the moment I get any job at all I’ll be richer than I am now. Will I be rich enough then? Will that raise in income from zilch to whatever paltry amount I receive be enough, and will I then have an obligation to donate a part of that, however small, to one charitable organization or another?

And if the answer is no, I should save it for college, then when does the answer become yes? And is it enough to donate a percentage of my means to charity, or is something else required from me? I don’t mean required by society or custom, but by my own moral standards. That’s what makes this whole question so hard: I refuse to accept any standards but my own, but I don’t know what they are.

I’m not refusing to accept other arguments – I’d consider them carefully, and if they were logical, sensible and convincing, I’d change my stance accordingly. I would, really I would, but I don’t have a stance, and no arguments have been presented to me. So basically, I have no idea what to do, and I can only hope I don’t take too long figuring it out.

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