We have this natural disposition that if we put a certain level of effort into something we expect a certain outcome. When I was a kid and went door to door asking my neighbours to sponsor me for a hockey team fundraiser. I expected to be sponsored. I expected to reach a certain level that somehow reflected my effort. If we go on a diet and put in a serious effort we expect to lose weight. Just like we expect hard work in school, or later in the workplace, to produce positive results like good marks or acknowledgment of our efforts through a pay raise or promotion, or simply getting to keep our job.
This result orientation even applies to doing something good for someone. When we’re nice to someone we anticipate they’ll be nice back, or that we’ll somehow see some form of acknowledgment of the good deed, even if it’s a simple smile. We’re used to getting feedback for our efforts in one way or another. Very few of us will continue to do something nice for someone if we don’t see some form of result. I’m not implying that we do things for others merely because we want the results. We often do them out of the goodness of our hearts, without expectation. I’m simply pointing out that when there is no feedback, when we don’t see any results we tend to stop doing it, likely unconsciously.
This all came to mind the other day when I was thinking about many of the problems in the world that still need our attention. Issues like poverty, war, violence, the environment, wildlife, and the myriad of social and economic injustices out there. Some of them are local and some are global issues.
It can all be overwhelming.
We might feel something inside us calling us to action, but then after a while we see that some issues just don’t seem to get any better. War and poverty have been around since forever. Power and greed seem to dominate the landscape. How can one seemingly powerless person’s efforts make a difference?
There’s an innate desire in each of us to make the world a better place, to help those who need our help. Studies have shown that empathy starts within a few hours of birth. A baby who hears another baby cry will also start to cry. Not because they’re afraid, or that they may be hungry or have a wet diaper themselves, but because they recognize the other baby’s distress.
Too often we give up. We say we’re not going to try to make a difference. Perhaps it’s from our life experience of not seeing any results for our efforts, or perhaps it’s because we’ve seen that so many others seem to have given up, or perhaps it’s because our culture has subliminally taught us not to bother because it’s useless to care—that things won’t change.
We can’t stop caring.
Caring for others and things outside of ourselves is a big part of what makes our humanity. It may be true that there are things we try to change where we may not see any results, at least not in our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. That we shouldn’t care.
There are empathetic desires that rise within each of us that we need to respond to regardless of whether or not we see results. Sometimes we’ll see them and sometimes we won’t. We can’t control whether or not our efforts will produce results.
If we choose to ignore these desires we will control the outcome of things.
And nothing will change. Nothing will ever get better.
I choose instead to listen to that inner voice. To listen to that desire to help my fellow human being, to help the earth, to help somewhere. I choose to be part of a local and global community that says we will take action. We will persevere.
Join me in listening to that inner voice calling us all to help make a difference.