The world is burning and it feels like there is nothing you can do

Unlike for many other people my world began to burn back in 2014. It was quite surreal. The things I never thought possible were happening, they were becoming the “new normal”. But I always had an impression that the madness was localised. That the rest of the world (or most of it at least) was sane.

Then 2016 happened. The news stories were bad. And they were only getting worse. The refugee crisis, Brexit, US elections. It started to feel like there is no sane place left. It was overwhelming.

Back in 2014 I felt helpless for the first time. I thought there was nothing I could do to fix the situation. And during the events of 2016 even more so.

By the time of Brexit I lived in the UK. Everyone I knew, everyone I followed on social media, supported Remain and was completely sure it would win. Because it was logical, it was the right thing. But Leave won. The following months social media were full of disbelief, pain, anger, sadness, depression. People were shouting into the void, amplifying each other’s pain. It was a sea of mourning without end.

After a few months I couldn’t take it any longer. And I certainly didn’t want to live through it again after the US elections, for I felt I knew what the outcome will be. It was all too familiar. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the US. Everyone I knew, everyone I followed on social media, was sure Hillary would win. Because it was logical, it was the right thing..

Two days before the US elections, on the 6th of November, I went offline. I stopped checking Twitter, reading any news websites. It was refreshing, but also quite unsettling at first. Suddenly there was a lack of information, the constant fire hose of random data to keep the brain busy was gone. Suddenly I got a lot of free time on my own.. with my own thoughts. It got better after a while though. I felt much more calm.

It was good to get out of the echo chamber of social media to preserve my sanity. But it wasn’t the solution, of course. For if you ignore the situation, don’t think about it, pretend it does not exist, it does not make it any less real. It won’t just go away. Instead you become one of those silent good people.

I thought a lot in those final weeks of 2016. I decided that the only way to cope when the world is burning is to do something. A small thing, a boring thing, nothing heroic. Because not doing anything is simply not possible any longer.

For some unclear reason all those movies loved by many— The Matrix, The Fifth Element, The Terminator, etc. —are not happening. There is no “chosen one” with special powers to save the world. This is it. There will be no one else. No one will come and fix it for us. It’s just us and what we do.

So here is my list of small things:

1. Choose what you spend your money on.

Don’t buy the cheapest or the most convenient thing. Instead support the businesses that align with your values.

In December I switched from BT to AAISP. They have a pretty clear stance on a few things that matter to me. Yes, it will cost me a bit more per month. I don’t mind. As a bonus, their service and support are quite awesome. CQM graphs to monitor your line and an IRC channel to chat with the staff and other customers come as a nice bonus for geeks.

2. Support those who actively work on changing things for the better.

Find non-profits or charities that work towards something you believe in and support them — financially or otherwise. Examples include, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Open Rights Group, ACLU, etc.

I’ve done only the lazy step for now and donated money to the various organizations, but will be looking for something to volunteer for in the coming months.

3. Get off the couch and show your support for the causes you believe in.

Via Women’s March for example. Yes, wake up early on Saturday and spend 2 hours just getting there. Yes, it is freezing. But each person adds to a total number, a big number. And when you see so many people around you that have done the same, you realise you are not alone.

Photo from Women's March
Photo from Twitter

This is my list for now, I will add more things as I figure them out. Small steps, boring steps, nothing heroic.

I do have my doubts. I do not know if what I do will help or change anything. “Marches never work” they say, “petitions never work” they say. But I am doing something, because not doing anything is not just worse, it is simply not acceptable anymore.

*  *  *

Last October I attended TEDxBrighton. It was a wonderful day, which deserves its own post. One of the speakers shared a story. It might sound cheesy, silly, ridiculous, but it was something I needed to hear. It stuck with me and I can’t get it out of my head.

It is a story of a hummingbird in the wood on fire. Searching for the origins of the story, I found this video of Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She will perhaps tell it better than I:

That’s it. I am doing the best I can.