July 21, 2013

What to Do When the World’s Problems Seem Too Big.



When we don’t know what else to do to help, it’s important to remember that being kind, compassionate and loving is helping.

This week the Bangkok Post reported a story about the recent rescue of over 70 caged dogs—the latest rescue as part of Thailand’s dog smuggling problem. The dogs were stacked on top of each other and crammed into a cage on the back of a truck. They were headed for Vietnam to be someone’s dinner.

According to a recent story on CNN, “as many as 200,000 live dogs every year are smuggled from northeast Thailand … destined for restaurants in Vietnam.”

The dogs that don’t suffocate on the way there arrive stressed, dehydrated and injured. Then, because of the belief that stress and fear release hormones that “improve the taste of the meat … the dogs are placed in stress cages that restrict their movement. Eventually the dogs are either bludgeoned to death or have their throats cut … In some cases, they’ve been known to be skinned alive.”

Though smuggling is illegal, there are no animal cruelty laws in Thailand, and smugglers often receive very light sentencing if caught.

I’ve been mulling over this story all week, trying to find some glint of wisdom or way to explain away just how horrible people are and why it will all be okay in the end.

But this time, I’m not sure what to say. I only come up with more questions and the sinking feeling that we are just awful beings.

I’m devastated to keep learning more ways we are hurting the vulnerable among us. How many different ways are there to be cruel?

It seems to be endless. Just when I think I’ve seen the worst of it, something new shows itself.

It’s easy to collapse into stories like this and feel overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in the world. Many of us want to do something to alleviate it, but feel like no matter what we do it’s not enough.

This is the space I’m in now. All of it feels too big, and like there’s too much suffering to ever be able to alleviate even a little of it. I’m somewhere between being completely disillusioned and wanting to quit my job to go to Thailand to save those dogs.

But a few days ago I received this post from Ram Dass. In it, Dass explains how we can help heal the world when confronted with stories like this.

He says, “Our actions need to be positive statements, reminders that even in the worst of times there is a world worth struggling for … that even the worst aspects of suffering are only part of the picture.”

He says that we don’t ignore suffering, but that we treat it gently. Meaning, we don’t get angry or fall into depression, but that we allow ourselves to feel it fully without getting trapped underneath it, to the point where we can no longer act.

According to Dass, it’s at times like this—when we see this kind of suffering, whether it’s those sweet dogs or starving children—that “our equilibrium is most needed.” When we are balanced, we are able to best serve the world.

Dass says the work of our lives is to learn “to trust that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should” and that we each have a role to play in making things better:

“To create a caring, loving, peaceful world,” he says, “we need to act with care and love and peace.”

When we do so, we learn to “appreciate that each of us has a part in nurturing this interconnectedness whole and healing it where it is torn.”

Sometimes, after we’ve signed the petitions, shared with friends, donated money and written blog posts, the only thing left to do is the work we do with ourselves. When we don’t know what else to do to help, it’s important to remember that being kind, compassionate and loving is helping.

The world doesn’t need a bunch of tired, stressed out people. It needs strong, fully alive beings who are answering the call to serve. It’s such a small thing, but it’s easy to forget that being gentle with ourselves and with others can go a long way toward creating a better world.

We don’t always have to “go big” to make a difference. Little things add up to big things. Maybe we can only give $5 to charity or maybe our lives are too demanding to volunteer right now.

That’s okay.

None of us can do everything we wish we could. But what we can do is work on being more kind, more connected and more loving every moment of every day.




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Ed: B. Bemel

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