I don’t really know if the issues and injustices in the world today are really bigger than at other times, but it feels that way sometimes. Maybe its just the massive volume of incoming content and commentary bombarding us 24/7. Maybe its the ease with which we can be exposed to matters from every corner of the world. Whatever it is, it can be overwhelming.
Leaders are driven to respond. We want to do something. We want to make a difference.
The tendency to take action serves us well most of the time, but even the best of us don’t have the capacity to care and respond to every possible issue. At some point we run out of ability to do anything.
I feel like I’ve been there more this year than ever before.
In a conversation with a skilled spiritual director I described the feeling of helplessness I can experience when I can’t handle the variety and weight of need I’m exposed to. With compassionate wisdom she encouraged me to sit with that sense of helplessness and see if there’s a lesson for me in it.
I think there is.
There are times when the only thing I can offer to a situation, or even to an individual, is my presence. I can’t change the difficult reality and I have nothing to say that could possibly be helpful. But I can offer myself.
Truth is, that seems insufficient and unsatisfying. I want to do something. I want to do more. I want to make it better. But when I can’t do that I can still be present, and in that helpless presence I can demonstrate support and empathy that somehow can be significant.
Years ago a friend introduced me to a song by the Holly Cole Trio called “Cry if you want to”. It’s a beautiful expression of the nonjudgmental kindness that may be the most and best I can offer when none of my preferred active responses can help.
I like being someone who tries to find active ways to get involved. I will probably always struggle with a desire to do something, even when I don’t know what to do. Even when there’s probably nothing I can do that will actually help.
I need to keep learning how to do things that will actually be beneficial in the realities of today’s complex problems. But I also need to learn the power and practice of helpless presence.