How to save the world
In a recent conversation with a friend who is following the war in Ukraine very attentively, she pondered aloud why she should be comfortable in a safe home, in a bucolic New England college town gazing through the French doors of her study at sturdy sugar maples and stately oaks right off her deck, while the Ukrainians are on the run from Russian bombs destroying their homes with whatever they can carry into a disrupted and entirely uncertain future.
I asked her why she should not.
I asked because they are both the same question. Notwithstanding your ever-present ability to choose your response in any interaction, there are many events and situations in life over which we have no control. In those cases, to ask why is equivalent to asking why not. You are alive; that’s why. You are human; that’s why.
Those are your parents. That is your birthday. That is the place and time you were born, and this is where you live now, in this body, with these strengths and limitations. You are here, not there. Someone else (many someones else) are there, not here. Things will change. Maybe quickly. Maybe slowly. You have a lot of agency in making changes in your life. But it is not all within your control.
The point of all this is not to disregard the plight of others, nor is it to make you complacent. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s to remind you of all the clichés: There but for the grace of God, go I; Think globally, act locally; Be here now; Be the best that you can be; or the famous Serenity prayer – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
With a nod to Niebuhr, I would add this: God, grant me the serenity to refute guilt or shame where it does not exist, the courage to speak or act in support of myself and others who may be oppressed or shamed unfairly in whatever way is within my ability and means, and the wisdom to know that life is always life – sometimes good, sometimes hard, sometimes bad – but that I always can choose compassion for myself and others. In this way, may I change the world. Amen.