World events, no matter where, are no longer “remote,” and haven’t been for some time. Moment by moment, we can follow the search for a vanished jetliner over the Indian Ocean, or watch one country take a bite out of another along the Black Sea. Battles and disasters, once just abstract reports, take on specific human forms, with individual names and faces.
This ability is a double-edged sword, of course. On the one hand, it’s good to be aware and informed about the world around us, but it can also be extremely stressful, if one has any empathy at all, to witness the sufferings of others and be unable to stop them.
It was sometime in late 1990, I think, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but before the formal beginning of Operation Desert Storm, and the mood at Pittsburgh Friends Meeting one particular Sunday morning was somber; many Friends expressed their distress and frustration at not being able to do more to stem the rising tide of war. They reported how the widespread tension, apprehension and uncertainty in anticipation of the seemingly inevitable conflict were starting to invade personal lives and affect relationships.
I remember being struck by how strongly people could be affected by a crisis, even if they were not directly or concretely being impacted by it. Part of this effect, clearly, was borne of a feeling of futility and powerlessness, of being at the mercy of uncontrollable events. The emotional and psychological toll of being in such circumstances is real, and in a sense, represents collateral damage, a spread of the original crisis.
How could one avoid becoming oneself a victim, as it were, of a faraway war or calamity? Thinking about this during Meeting that day, I was reminded of a book that had been recently published, and had been growing in popularity, a book on everyday environmental activism called “Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth,” produced by the Earthworks Group. What if we had something like “Fifty Simple Ways to Defuse a World Crisis?” (“Defuse” here means not “resolve,” necessarily, but something like “keep from blowing up completely.”)
The list practically wrote itself as fast as I could scribble. The individual items seemed to group themselves, with some overlap, into five general themes:
Connect and communicate
Take action in your own life
Speak truth to power
I didn’t do much to develop the idea at the time, as other developments and life changes intervened. But after the crises in Syria and now Ukraine, I found myself thinking more and more about that old project, and it has occurred to me that not only are there undoubtedly more than 50 ways, but also that you, dear readers, know a lot more of them than I do. So I’ve changed the title slightly (adding the “at least” part), and I’m also setting up a WordPress site, 50waysatleast.wordpress.com, where you will not only be able to review the list and read my thoughts on each idea, but add ideas and thoughts of your own. (It’ll start small at first, with many a blank page, but it will grow over time as we work on it together.)
It’s a pretty good bet, I dare say, that there are a few more crises coming down the pike, and some of them might be doozies. Sharing ideas will help us get through those coming crises much better, I believe, than hoarding MREs… or retreating into bomb shelters.