Frustration makes humans turn away. That is simple psychology. When we see something that concerns us, our brain does one of two things to reduce the physiological discomfort of the worry. First, it looks for action and, if it can find it, motivates us to take it. Second, if it can perceive no worthy action–it feels frustration–it turns away. It ignores the problem. This is denial.
This means that in order to be able to really see the world we live in, we have to find ways to make our brain feel we can actually do something about that world. The more our brain feels we have agency over the world, the more it will allow us to actually see it. The more we feel we can help the world, the more we can actually live in the world as it is and have meaningful lives.
One way to feel you can help the world–and thus be able to see it–is to focus on small acts. Change your perception and believe your small acts matter. Don’t be overwhelmed by not being able to find a huge action you can take.
Not being able to find a huge action may make you think there is nothing you can do about the recent act of terrorism in Charleston. As a white person, I am aware there is a temptation to turn away from that terrible act. What can I possibly do to stop such things from happening? Once that question starts, my brain starts wanting to ignore and deny.
But actually, the Charleston massacre–as well as the police murder of black Americans and the many other racist problems–grew out of thousands upon thousands of tiny conscious and unconscious racist acts that came before it. So maybe one of my tiny acts today can help push the current of events away from a future act of race terrorism.
So what tiny act can you do? (And I am not saying tiny acts will fix everything. I am just saying concentrating on tiny acts is a way to allow our psychologies to begin to accept our agency over and complicity in the problems).
For my part, I am trying to help my Zen school organize a diversity and inclusiveness workshop. My friend Kate Babb Shone started this Facebook campaign to boycott Charleston tourism until the Confederate Flag is removed from the state capitol’s website and state property. Perhaps you can encourage your employer to stop hiring from within friend networks and instead to advertise jobs in ways that reach outside our closed circles.
Who knows these things will help? But tomorrow, try another thing. And the next day, another.
A beaver does not try to change the course of a river. It just puts one stick in the water and then puts another stick. It does not think of the enormity of what it is trying to change. Just one stick today. Maybe another stick tomorrow. If we all concentrate on the daily sticks, perhaps we can change the current of history.
Which stick can you move today? What is today’s tiny act?