Opinion: Helplessness Doesn’t Permit Hopelessness

The author, Alma sophomore Bonnie Lord, submerged in the Kalamazoo River. Helplessness can feel like drowning, swept away by a freezing river (Photo illustration by Bella Bakeman).

When you’re a person who cares, living can be hard. Going outside on Friday was lovely, yes – but that 60-degree day was the product of record-high global temperatures this year. 

I look at my phone to check the weather, and I’m reminded of the silent genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the resources used to make my phone come from. 

For months, I’ve called my representatives every day – asking for change, a ceasefire or for our tax dollars to go to anything other than war – like libraries, healthcare, homes for the homeless – any evidence of human empathy. 

All I have to show for my efforts is the scripted response Congressman John Moolenaar’s office has sent me about a dozen times. 

When you watch people on social media use the only channel of communication they have to beg for peace, for climate action, for basic human rights or even just to be remembered – it feels like they’re talking to you. 

To you – who cares so much, who feels the guilt of your nation’s silence and actions like a world on your shoulders – it hurts.

If you’re like me, this feeling can be completely immobilizing. Why should we go on caring, if none of it does anything for anyone? What if every minute I spend weeping, spiraling and scrolling only confirms the belief that the damage will be done anyway, with or without my tears? Why should I even get out of bed?

What can one person do?

Be Grateful for the Pain

This pain is exactly the feeling that often keeps people from caring about something in the first place. Knowing something terrible is going on, but feeling like it’s so big and so foreign to you that you wouldn’t even know where to start, is a cycle we live in quite comfortably. It’s hard to give up that comfort.

But knowing that something horrific hurts you, and feeling sad or angry when confronted with it, is the appropriate reaction. Be grateful for those emotions; they mean you’re human. You have to hang on to that.

But too much empathy is self-destruction – and being immobilized by the pain keeps you from being able to do anything. 

So, take care of yourself. Appreciate your life, your loved ones and the comforts of art and joy and humor. Support yourself; find people who care like you do and let them support you. Build those networks, go to therapy and talk to your friends and family.

When it comes to fighting oppression, uplifting others and healing the world, remember that rest is resistance, joy is resistance and most importantly, hope is resistance.

We’re in this for the long run; we have to survive today to work for tomorrow.

Do What You Can

There’s a well-known story exchanged between activists about a man named A.J. Muste. During the Vietnam War, he stood outside the White House with a lit candle every night for years, protesting the war. A one-person protest. 

When asked if he thought his demonstration would do anything to actually influence policy makers, he replied that he wasn’t doing it to change them:

“I do it so the country won’t change me.”

Posting on social media, calling your representatives, boycotting and talking about the issues that mean something to you might not feel like much, but they do have an impact. Bigger actions like joining and organizing groups, protesting, lobbying and running for office aren’t always attainable for everyone – especially if you’re new to activism. 

So, do what you can. Educate others, keep yourself engaged and aware and use your voice. Even if you don’t think you’re making a difference, even if you think you’re just one voice, vote or call in a sea of others, what you do matters. 

Maybe one day you’ll be able to join a protest. Today, do what is sustainable and attainable and don’t stop. 

Look for the Good

Doom scrolling is real and dangerous. It’s not dangerous because it forces you to see something that hurts – I would argue that’s healthy. But the reality is that what we see is largely governed by an algorithm that knows painful things get views, clicks and shares. 

Doom scrolling is the act of getting stuck in this cycle – only seeing the worst of the world and of people, all the time. But the algorithm goes both ways.

People are hurting, dying, losing their rights and the world’s never been hotter. At the same time, people are protesting in the millions, building more equitable communities, healing native ecosystems and fighting oppression everywhere.

It’s easy not to see the good when the bad is so loud and so relevant – but being informed about issues must be balanced with being informed about solutions. Whether you see it or not, there are people out there right now, working to make things better. 

So, follow accounts posting positive news, read articles about amazing people, find businesses and restaurants that support good causes and talk about them. 

Feeling hopeless and obsessing over the bad is what companies, politicians and oppressors want. They want you paralyzed. But there are more people out there like you, who will keep fighting the good fight. 

There is hope. 

Lord stands in the Kalamazoo River after submerging herself. Even if drowning in hopelessness feels like the only answer, standing up for your own well-being is the first step to standing up for others’ (Photo illustration by Bella Bakeman).

Hope is the Thing That’s Worth it

Knowing all of these things doesn’t make it any easier to go about your day. We will continue to witness horrors committed overseas, we will continue to see politicians gain office who don’t represent us and we will continue to cry for our world.

But it’s not over. Humanity has lived through disasters for centuries – and we’re still here. We have survived and we have learned despite it all. We have to know that regardless of the timeline, caring will always be worth it. 

It’s about all of us, for all of us – and it has to be all of us.

Imagine what we could do if everyone cared, even just a little bit?

That’s a world worth working for.

About Bonnie Lord 28 Articles
Bonnie Lord is a sophomore from Alma, Michigan and is an environmental science major at Albion College. She investigates questions of infrastructure, water quality and the changing relationship the community of Albion navigates with the environment. She enjoys bird watching, reading, and dismantling the patriarchy. Contact Bonnie via email at BFL10@albion.edu

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