Don’t get wrapped up in the world’s injustices. Some people find it fairly easy to forgive personal hurts. But they feel tremendous outrage by the injustices and crimes of the world. People become submerged in grievances of this kind partly because they think these grievances make them good people. They may even fear that they would be bad people if they didn’t feel this way. Certainly there are terrible injustices in the world. “Someone should do something about this!” we think. But we ourselves are probably not going to do anything. In fact there are so many of these situations in the world that it’s impossible for any one person to deal with them all. Deep down inside, we know this, and we feel guilty about it. We often deal with this guilt by turning it into outrage—which proves to ourselves, in a roundabout way, that we are good and caring people and that we will not let these injustices pass unnoticed. This outrage does no earthly good for anyone, but it seems (falsely) to soothe our discontent.
Much of the media’s coverage of wars and disasters plays into this dynamic. I’ve come to call it “the entertainment of conscience.” We are provided with news and images of horrors, we feel outraged, and thus we reassure ourselves of our own decency. But watching wars and disasters and crimes on TV will not make you a good person, no matter how much grief and compassion you may sincerely feel. Nor will these emotions make life the slightest bit better for those who are suffering. Actually their suffering is often made worse by our need for this entertainment. When a woman has had her child shot or seen her house float away, it can’t be pleasant to have a reporter shove a microphone in her face and ask her to talk about her suffering for the amusement of the home audience. If I stopped here, it might well seem that I’m arguing for laziness and apathy. I’m not. I’m arguing against useless emotions. There are positive ways of acting in the world. Many of them involve simple, everyday decency and compassion in daily life: this makes more of a difference than you might imagine. At other times you may feel that you have a special task to fulfill in a given situation—say by helping victims of a natural disaster. In that case, you should certainly act on your convictions. But don’t delude yourself either. After all, if you were dropped in the middle of most of the world’s trouble spots, you would probably just be in the way.