The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Suffering that isn't on television

Recently I was wondering, "When do you start saying no to good things?" There are so many good things to support and serve out there. How do you choose? How do you prioritize?

As I was reading Flickering Pixels this morning, Shane Hipps chimed in with his perspective. Here's what he said.

"The human psyche isn't designed to withstand the full gravity of planetary suffering. Numbness and exhaustion are natural inclinations. Feeling helpless and hopeless is nearly inevitable. The heart can only stretch so far before it is worn thin and wrung dry. This is empathy at a distance.

"Over time, if unchecked, this numbness undermines our ability to extend compassion to those in our own city, neighborhood, or even our own houses. The pain of the world, experienced through television, can keep us from understanding and alleviating the pain we encounter in our daily lives. The task of recalibrating our psyche and reigniting compassion must begin with local relationships."

It's true. The television works like a river, flooding sad story after sad story into our living rooms. We can't swim upstream to touch it or change its current. We're just carried along in that sadness. We're just as helpless to change their conditions as they are. We can't bear the emotional drain of perpetual helplessness. Eventually we have to disengage from it.

Hipps then relates the story of sitting with a friend who's wife had just left him. He is present physically and emotionally in that pain with his friend. He goes on.

"When pain and suffering are right in front of us, we're moved to act and respond. Exposure to local traumas revitalizes our compassionate instincts.

"Direct service to people around us heals our feelings of helplessness and apathy. It is quite possible that the needs of some far-off place are greater. But you aren't there. You're here, and there are needs galore in your own backyard. We do what we can, where we are, and watch the world change life by life."

I appreciated this. I felt encouraged by it. We've become quite distracted with the desire to create big change, lasting change, felt change. But that's indulgent and self-centered. In reality we need small change, personal change, relational change. This isn't glorious, but it's real. This is a quick fix but a long-term challenge worth persevering in.