There is a quote that I like a lot, that has brought me comfort in many times of despair. It is usually attributed to the Talmud, which isn’t quite true, but a mixed provenance does not have to rob a piece of writing of its beauty:
Yet there are times, and for many of us the present time is one of them, when just the first sentence alone is too much to ask. How are to not be daunted by the grief of the world? The fear, the hatred, the disregard of the powerful for the powerless, the inequality and injustice that we see all around us? How are we not to shrink in fear from the idea that this behemoth is something we can deal with, that we have a moral obligation to confront?
Firstly, we must remember this: the world’s leaders, the billionaires, the powerful who shape our lives every day, without us even realising it – they have done little or nothing to help those in need. Often they have hindered, whether through callousness, inaction, or a hoarding of the world’s resources. So, if you fall into one of these groups of people, do me a favour, stop reading now, and go and do something.
Still reading? Then you’re not one of the leaders, one of the billionaires. Maybe, unlike them, it is beyond your power to change the world by yourself. So to you, I say this:
All the hope in the world rests in the people of no account.
Who are the people of no account? That’s me. That’s you. That’s every one of us. Individually, we are of no account. That’s not an insult, it’s a fact.
It’s also a strength. For with this knowledge, we can begin to recognise what is and is not our job, in terms of what we must do.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
It is not our task to take responsibility for other people’s actions. That’s on them.
It is our task to set an example; to model what it looks like to live in a better world.
It is our task to do the best we can, with the resources we have available to us. Some of us have more resources than others.
It is not our task to force people to change their minds. We can present evidence, we can build a case, we can be as persuasive as we possibly can be. But we can’t force someone to think the way we do.
It is our task to act with compassion towards those who need it. It is our duty and our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and dispossessed.
It is not our task to solve every problem we come across single-handedly.
It is our task to work together. Separately, we are of no account. Together, we are powerful beyond imagining.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
The pain and grief of the world is a crashing tumult which nothing can withstand. But that which cannot be turned aside can still be defeated by something larger than itself. Alone, we stand no chance. Together, maybe we can create a calm ocean, broad enough to absorb the storm.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
I will not give up, no matter how futile the work may seem. I hope you will not give up either.