The world faces a lot of challenges today and it is easy to turn a blind eye to some of these things and hope that they will either go away or miraculously get sorted.
So many of us go through our lives, remaining silent about what matters to the world and other people. It is as if we are on auto-pilot, day after day.
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out.” –Pastor Martin Niemöller
Sometimes, I feel that there is so much that could be done in the world, but where does one begin? Having the desire to change things is great, but what about actually following up?
Is just being compassionate enough?!
During my recent trip to India something strange happened to me – I became aware that I wasn’t really as compassionate and kind as I used to think I was – I found myself turning a blind eye to some of the squalor and poverty around me.
After a few days of seeing street children in rags, I realised that I was blanking them out. It was as if the people living on the side of the roads in cardboard shacks simply didn’t exist in my peripheral vision, whilst I was being taken around in a rickshaw.
The paradox of India
India, the land of the Rajahs, elephants and outsourced call centres, is quite an incredible place and one that never ceases to surprise and shock me. But amidst all the splendour of cities such as Mumbai, and the acclaim for the supposed economic boom in India, remember that there is still so much poverty in the country.
Though India may be getting richer through its rapid development, the disparity in wealth is huge and shocking. I reckon that the poor people in India and perhaps other countries too, have simply no idea just how wealthy the rich are.
Conversely, the wealthy have no idea what it is like to be so poor as to be living in the streets and not knowing where your next meal was coming from.
So there I was, feeling like a king being driven around in a rickshaw and after only a few days amidst this huge contrast of wealth, I found myself switching off from the beggars and the sight of the street children. Compassion became pity, which then became annoyance and then finally indifference.
So what happened and what made me feel the way I did?
What made me become so silent and passive?
More importantly, knowing why, how will that stop us all from being silent people:-
1. Feeling overwhelmed
After a few days I simply felt overwhelmed – it was as if I could no longer even see what needed to be done and I just switched off. There seemed so much that needed to be done from feeding the hungry to clothing the street children that I didn’t know where one would start.
Maybe we all need a pit stop before compassion fatigue kicks in.
It is easy to get disheartened and tired if you are doing so much for others without actually enjoying it.
What you therefore need to do is ensure that you take enough self-care and also that you make your acts of compassion more fun.
I remember feeling some shame and even anger at how we can tolerate our fellow human beings to be living in such sub-human conditions. I was also angry at the apparent indifference all around me.
Shame is okay as long as it triggers us to take some action. Recognise that it is okay to feel like this.
Also, be wary of having any feelings of guilt e.g. I have so much and they have so little. It is what it is – and you can make things better for them.
4. Sheer helplessness
It is easy to give in to helplessness at the sheer magnitude of the suffering of our fellow human beings.
Just where does one even begin?
No matter what, feel the fear and change the world anyway.
Huge confession time!
I admit that I can be snobbish and I can harbour a sense of superiority at times. Thankfully this is something I am working on but the thought process goes like this – why should I get my hands dirty?!
And the more I am aware of feeling like this, the more I put myself into situations where I can work through it.
So no matter what you perceive yourself to be, be willing and able to pitch in and help out.
You should only look down on someone when you are giving them a helping hand –
“Never look down on anybody unless you are helping them up” – Jesse Jackson
6. Indifference and scepticism
Funnily enough during my time in India, I felt the greatest indifference to poverty was amongst the local, relatively wealthy Indians. Perhaps they were hardened or simply felt hopeless – and strangely I found them to be also sceptical about helping the poor and even questioned just how poor they really were.
Okay, granted some of the poor were probably not as poor as they made out to be, but at the same time, coming from the privileged West, we are still so much more wealthier.
And if we have the means and more importantly, the desire to make a difference, why be indifferent?
Just take some precautions to avoid being taken advantage of – and at the same time, even if you get taken for a ride, you will have still helped someone! If so, then take the learnings and move on.
7. Fear of standing out
This is another big one for me and I suspect a lot of you – we hold ourselves back for fear of standing out – and even shining.
But always remember, who are you to not let your light shine?
The way forward is to stop fretting about the small things.
It is so easy to become indifferent, remain silent and not do anything about some of the huge challenges the world faces today – such as social injustice, poverty, famine, discrimination and so on.
And yet we all fret about our own daily challenges and grievances in our own little worlds, which in the big scheme of things are actually quite petty.
- We worry about who said what to whom and why.
- We complain bitterly about a train that arrives five minutes late and
- And we hold grudges for years against someone who may not even know that they had offended us.
If only people were not so hung up on the small, petty things in their life, they would have more energy and desire to seriously take on the real challenges we face today globally.
So today, the moment you find yourself stressing over anything, ask if it really matters in the big scheme of things.
At the end of the day, every little bit you do to make the world a better place makes a difference – and it really matters.
Compassion is the key here and no matter what else is going on for us, if we can continue to have compassion for our fellow human beings, then even just having that compassion alone will make a difference.
Also, remember that compassion is not something you reserve for when visiting places like India, but it begins at home.
It is finally time to stop being silent.
Look around your life now and see where you are being silent – and why.
Develop a broader outlook and see what you can do for the world, beyond your own life.
And most important of all, remember to never be one of the silent people again.
“Happiness depends on what you can give. Not what you can get“. – Mahatma Gandhi
top photo courtesy of wili_hybrid
Very true! Sometimes we face things, we start to look past it, in background like a white noise. We should be compassionate, even if it means we may look odd. So did you speak up for those poor folks? I have a feeling that the answer would be yes.
Zengirl, your analogy of looking past it like white noise is so apt. And sometimes I wonder if this is what helps us get through all our challenges, especially when faced with poverty.
When I went to India for the very first time, I was advised not to make any eye contact with beggars or street children, otherwise they would “latch on” to me. But of course that wasn’t me and sure enough I was surrounded right outside the airport. After that I simply carried packets of biscuits everywhere I went and that seemed to make the kids very happy.
So yes, we should be compassionate even if it means we may look odd or in the eyes of some of the local people, foolish.
And of course I did speak up for those poor folks.
Hi Arvind, I’ve only recently subscribed to your blog … this post really resonated with me (actually, I cried!). I am not wealthy but, I am grateful to have a safe and beautiful place to live, healthy food on my table and free time to enjoy myself. I stopped watching the news years ago because the violence and suffering became overwhelming. But I do agree – we cannot be silent. Now I choose where I can best make a difference: my closest sphere of influence such as my family and friends, my community and the charitable organisations that are making a difference locally and globally. Thank you for your insightful post. Kind regards, Lisa.
Welcome to my world, Lisa!
I was going to say I am sorry that this post made you cry, but actually I am glad that you did so and for sharing with us. Your tears show that you were touched at a deep human level – and at the end of the day that is what counts.
One may not be able to do much about world poverty as an individual, but if the poor know that you are touched so deeply and that you really care, that is worth so much to them.
And as you say, one can choose where best to make a difference – at the end of the day, every little bit helps.
Finally, here in the west we all have so much to be grateful for – and yet we tend to take it for granted.
A very powerful message this article has. (I sound like Yoda there)
This reminds me of an article I wrote a long time ago called ‘when you walk past a begger’ with a similar message. I also am in the process of writing a new article which also addresses some of the things you mentioned, like, for example, do silent blessings actually make a difference?
When I saw all the begger children in India I didn’t givin in to feeling pity, instead, I chose to see the greatness within them. I found that allowing the emotions of others suffering to enter me also ment that I was then in suffering and it put me into a place where I wasn’t equipped to then help people.
So I chose of place of seeing greatness. not turning a blind eye, but seeing the blessings that not only I have but that they have too. People in the west won’t be happy when they see a penny on the ground, but see how happy one of those children are if you give them a buiscuit or they find a rupee in change on the ground….that’s an extraordinary gift. I believe that contrast exists for a reason and that’s why when you understand the beauty of it you no longer need to feel pity but you can understand why it exists.
I can’t possibly help all those children individually, that would almost be impossible, what I can do is look to see the world and effect change on a much larger scale. whether that be through raising awareness, money or creating a new global mindset.
I totally understand where you’re coming from and I believe there are many levels upon which we can bring wealth to the world,
Lovely piece, i’m going to stumble it as I want more people to read this and take note!
Thanks Amit for your kind words of wisdom and encaouragement.
You have given me a lot of food for thought – and I like the bit about empowerment rather than pity, and seeing the greatness in all people, regardless of their material state and well-being.
Keep up the inspirational work you do.
Hi there Arvind,
Well, it’s good to see that you have so zealous readers that your posts make them cry 🙂
First, I thought that you are going to provoke us to be like.. talkative at all times. I happily realized that you’re not going that way! I think that silence and being silent is awesome, at least for me. However, your point of view is absolutely correct: when silence is led by fear not by wisdom, than it’s not wise but cowardly to stay so.
Best of all,
Zoli, yes it is humbling to know that one’s words can move people to tears:-)
Thanks for clarifying the difference between talking too much and not remaing silent.
Sometimes I wish that some talkative people would be silent and if I can’t stand it I just dipolomatically leave their company. But as I have said above, it is where we don;t speak up and remain silent about key matters that it becomes wrong to do so.
Arvind, I also was moved by your reaction to seeing so much poverty on your recent return trip to India. It can be so overwhelming to a person raised with plenty of food, safe shelter, and good opportunities. Years ago I went to Ethiopia for a short time. I was stunned by the beauty of the people and the country and by extreme poverty. I saw things I had never seen before, such as people with leprosy who had no legs and pushed themselves around on small boards on wheels. These days I contribute money to an organization which operates on children born with disfiguring cleft lips and cleft palates. It’s a wonderful organization, but I feel as if I should do more.
Madeleine, yes indeed we can all do more.
But I have reached the conclusion that as what we do will never be enough, we should just be happy with what we do, rather than feeling guilty or beating ourself up for not doing enough.
Travelling to places like Ethiopia and India certainly helps us appreciate more of what we already have.
Arvind, you said it all so beautifully and having just returned from India myself, I saw this with my own eyes – two extremities – one of beauty and grandeur and the other poverty and misery. It was heart rendering; I did what i could but when you open your bag, within seconds you have a whole gang of them. One feels so helpless. How can you help so many? Charity begins at home they say so I shall spread this beautiful message of yours and make more people aware of the situation. We have loads to be grateful for that we take so much for granted!
Thanks Anne for sharing your first hand expereinces.
It is always hard as we feel helpless and yet wish to do so much more.
I appreciate you spreading this message – it all helps to make the world a better place.