Can’t Save the World

Another great post from Eric Foster, founder and publisher of YBEMagazine.com. You can catch him writing about the issues surrounding the young black community. Glad to be hosting his voice here.

I shared a poem I wrote with Isom that spoke of dealing with the world’s problems. Some of that weight, we put on ourselves by trying to take on everyone’s problems. So can we fault others for coming to us in their time of need when we make ourselves so available?

The point is that sometimes I take on more responsibility than I can handle and occasionally feel guilt if I can not help everyone. This is more true in my personal life. I have come to realize that I cannot save the world, no matter how much I may want to. That’s not to say that my goal of creating YBE Magazine is pointless. No, it’s on a personal, rather than universal, level.

I recognize that I have my own issues and sometimes, I feel broken. But every day, I manage to put the pieces together and rebuild stronger than before. However, in that, I also find that I am sometimes drawn to people who are just as damaged, if not more damaged than me; the only difference is that they may not know how to rebuild – or might simply not try. I’m not drawn to them because they are damaged, mind you. Usually, I see the potential for greatness in them that they cannot see for themselves. And though I encourage them to make positive change and live up to their potential, some prefer to just remain broken.

In the past, I have brought myself to the edge of total collapse trying to save others. But is that my job? As a friend, lover, brother, spouse, mentor, or whatever you are to someone, when is the sacrifice too much? As is often pointed out, you can’t help someone who won’t admit they have a problem (which ties into isom’s point about black men being honest with themselves).

Ultimately, they become the weight that you cannot bear. I think of scenes in movies where two (or more) people are hanging in a precarious predicament – an example being from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indy is trying to save Elsa from falling to her death in the widening chasm. Instead of trying to save herself, she stayed distracted, letting her vices consume and eventually kill her. Indy fought to the end to save her, almost losing himself as well.

It may sound selfish to put your own needs ahead of others, but at the same time, selflessness can destroy too. There has to be a balance. I can’t fulfill my purpose if I allow myself to be brought down by others who won’t lift themselves up when I extend a helping hand. And I can’t feel guilty for not saving that person. I have to let go and trust that they will learn in time.

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5 thoughts on “Can’t Save the World

  1. I live in an environment where I am surrounded by people with abiding and overwhelming “need.” Consequently, I have come to consider the act of ‘giving’ a monumental complexity. Yes, I agree with you that people must be willing to help themseves, but I also believe that we must learn to be more “ruthless” in our “selflessness.”

    Many people define “help” as strictly financial. Others simply are not good “receivers.” They’ll perceive you as stupid, or even arrogant, for having the desire to ‘give.’ This may sound cold, but I’ve found that truly effective giving, whether personal, or philanthropic, is always a contractual matter. Needs and expectations, on both sides, must be clearly defined. I recently put on my “librarian hat” to give a neighbor some much-needed, but unsolicited advice. The result: He felt offended, humiliated, and bullied. I’d “humiliated” him by informing him that rather than spend money on gasoline and lodging to drive to his children’s birth city for copies of their birth certificates, he could simply order them, online, for a fraction of the time and expense.
    My point, here, is that “help,” no matter how sincere or well-intended isn’t “help,” at all, if it isn’t perceived as such. I believe that perhaps, unless we’re Oprah, or “Bill and Melinda,” our “world,” i.e., “the world,” is fairly one person at a time. Obviously, you have a * huge* heart, and it’s in the right place, so to speak. I just think you’re being way too hard
    on yourself considering the many complexities of “giving.”

    No doubt, your heart is *huge,* but I believe you’re being much too hard on yourself. There’s got to be a wisdom, and a ‘balance,’ somewhere between Ayn Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness” and Mother Teresa’s self-lessness. I really p like what you’ve said in your post because I, too, have been ruminating on how I can be more effective in my own giving — limited as my resources are, and complex as “giving” can be. I think just the fact that you are “bothered” is evidence enough that you’re on the “right track” (for yourself, that is)…

    • Thanks for the reply. I agree, many think financial when you speak of helping others, but there are so many other ways in which you can help people. Sometimes, it’s the encouragement that is needed for a person to follow their dreams or know that they are on the right path. Or it can be emotional support to help someone deal with crises or their inner demons. Often, I find that is the hardest to give, especially when black men have a hard time connecting (constructively) with their emotions in the first place.

      Like you said, it isn’t helpful if the recipient doesn’t perceive it as that. And you can’t help someone who refuses to admit they need it. We just have to keep our intentions good and find that balance.

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