Islamic State are sweeping across the Middle East, Ebola rages across parts of Africa, there are signs we are headed for a global economic slowdown, climate change seems unstoppable, UKIP have an elected MP, I think I am getting a bit of a sniffle…I could go on.
Recently I found myself raging at the radio and television as crisis after crisis unfolds and our collective response appears to be inadequate yet again. I know that anger is a useless emotion and hurling insults at politicians on the television only serves to increase my own stress levels (and make me appear more than slightly unhinged). I know that simply feeling overcome with sadness for the victims of war, disease and poverty achieves precisely nothing other than upsetting my own emotional well being.
And yet it’s all so complicated and so overwhelming that there is nothing an individual can do, is there?
Thinking about this I was reminded of an old Quaker saying:
“It is better to light one small candle than rage against the darkness”.
Of course, but where is the candle? And who’s got a match?
Again an old favourite came to mind – Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the things that worry us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains things that we can actually control.
His point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”
By attempting to address every “concern” your energy becomes dissipated and is wasted as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, you achieve nothing.
Does this mean that we should do nothing about these complex global issues and ignore them? I don’t believe so. My personal view is that we should stop shouting at the television and instead identify some tangible actions, within our control. Worried about global warming? Then lobby your MP, drive less, invest in renewable energy. Taking small actions is likely to expand your circle of influence, so you can take ever bigger steps.
Identifying and taking tangible actions an individual can take to address these huge issues is not always easy, but it beats impotent raging.
Now, who’s got a match?
Who’s got a match I’ve got the petrol to set it to
I know I shouldn’t have trusted you
It’s making me tense when you’re telling me
It’s just the facts that don’t compute the classic way
I guess I’m wrong again anyway