Everything worth saying has already been said. Everything worth writing has already been written. We’ve heard it all before. We’ve read it all before. I just hope that everything worth doing has not already been done.
This is not the healthiest of mentalities to adopt when the immediate purpose of life for those in my position — fortunate denizens of the First World, recipients of education and training in diplomacy and innovation — is to be ambitious, to succeed, to fix all the things that are wrong and to leave the planet in a better condition than upon entry. Regrettably, it becomes difficult to fulfill these responsibilities when faced with the realization that there has already been so much effort with little reward. So many intellectuals and activists have offered discourses and perspectives and solutions, and except for polarizing sentiment around most issues, nothing has physically changed. With every new line of thought broadcast into the public sphere, with every old line of thought revived, the rift between intention and action only grows. We only fuel stagnation.
I arrive at this unhappy conclusion not because of an innate pessimism, but rather a steady depletion of optimism. Over the past week alone, several incidents have pulled at the delicate curtain between reality and constructed reality. There have been racially-charged events that are strong enough to counteract all the progress we’ve supposedly made throughout history. There have been political debates that repeatedly reach depressing resolutions. Twitter even doubled its tweet character limit, so, overall, things have been wildly unsteady.
Carrying on, amidst and despite the surrounding chaos, is something of an ethical dilemma. Using this column space for reasons other than to directly respond to local and global turmoil is oddly unsettling. Is everyone with a voice and a platform obligated to relentlessly add to the commentary about the Issues™ of mankind? If we are, does it even make a difference?
Balancing our own afflictions against those of the world is often perceived as selfish and superficial. It’s a unique challenge — one that isn’t usually credited with any consideration. How could we spare time to dwell on embarrassing interactions with people we’re aiming to impress? How could we care about our grades or our relationships or anything in the realm of our daily operations when there are so many more pressing issues constantly at play?
At a time like this, having a conscience is very tiring. Feeling anything besides concern for higher-order problems of social injustice and inequality, of life and death, seems like a disservice. It feels unjust to be distanced from the harsh truths of the world — how humans live in want of food, water, clothing and shelter. Extraordinary suffering almost seems ordinary, and it feels like we are at fault for this setup.
Luckily — or sadly — worry is an infinitely renewable resource. We can worry about ourselves and our mundane problems fully and completely, and we can still have worry left for the world. This, I think, is the healthier approach to changing the world. Desensitization isn’t at the heart of the issue. We still have the capacity and inclination to feel sorrow, but sometimes we excuse ourselves from doing so… and that’s not a crime. It’s suffocating to suppress our reactions to personal hardships and inconveniences. In the long term, this only debilitates us from feeling for others and prevents us from excelling and giving back. Pain is relative, and sometimes, awareness and consciousness are permissible substitutes for empathy and action. All of us have our own battles, and we are entitled to fight them, however big or small, even as we engage in the larger wars of the world.
I am exhausted with the state of the world and the state of my world, and I think I’m allowed to be. I think we all are.
Priya Kankanhalli is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matters of Fact appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.