I do loads of public speaking and one of my standard opening stories goes something like this:
I was having a conversation with [insert name] the other day. As part of our discussion I asked what they considered to be the two greatest problems in the world today. After some thought, [insert name] shrugged their shoulders and said: “I don’t know and I don’t care.” My reply goes “You’re right! Ignorance and indifference are the two greatest problems in our world today.“
Now in the context of speaking I always ham it up, frequently pick on someone in the audience, usually a leader, and make it clearly obvious that the audience knows all too well that said leader would never actually respond that way. It gets people thinking, and it gets the point across. There are times, things, world events and relationships in life, we’d simply prefer not to know about, not have to deal with and certainly do not want to be held responsible for.
As I write this blog I find myself reflecting on current world events; some have ‘celebrated’ the centennial milestone of WW1; the bombing of the civilian MH-17 flight and escalating conversation between Russia and everyone else; civilian casualties in the perpetual conflict between Israel and Gaza; execution of Christians in Iraq by ISIS and so we can go on. Will there ever be a time in our world when peace triumphs, when humanity truly respects humanity? To be honest it’s a bit overwhelming and I know there are times I don’t want to know and I don’t want to care.
But I have a problem…I know too much, so I cannot plead ignorance. I’ve travelled to the Middle East, sat with underground Christians persecuted because of the faith they hold, I’ve been to developing countries and seen firsthand the brutality of human trafficking and I’ve worked in environments where I’ve heard personal stories and know the global statistics of those in child labour, bonded labour and those exploited for personal profit and political power. I know that my consumer choices about simple essentials like chocolate, caffeine and clothing makes a difference indirectly to those faced with such life circumstances.
So my problem becomes…do I care enough to allow my indifference to be unruffled?
To face up to my own selfishness, my own pride, my own feelings of disempowerment requires courage, it requires acceptance. Courage to be true to myself, my values, and inner beliefs about the world I’d like to see. Acceptance that I’m flawed, that I fail, that I can be selfish.
It means owning my own sense of helplessness around global events and my own indifference about the plight of those in the midst of such conflict. For me, avoidance and denial isn’t an option. not if I want to grow as a person, as someone who exhibits values of compassion, respect, of being other-centred and not self-centred.
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
― M. Scott Peck
And that’s where I have a problem. Because it’s not easy, and to be honest, at times it’s bloody uncomfortable! I suspect that much of the world’s issues, politics and economics aside, come down to our own inability to give of ourselves when we feel uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s why divorce rates are so high and mental health issues dominate western culture, and why families are so fractured and dysfunctional. Perhaps we choose indifference over caring and we choose self-protection over compassionate action because it’s actually easier?
Before I share a final thought with you I feel it’s important to lay some cards down on the table. So in the interests of self-disclosure. I hold a Christian faith and recognise this shapes my worldview. I detest simple answers. I dispute spiritualising everything. I dislike those who suggest and imply that only those with faith can make a difference in our world. I do not hold to a dualistic separation of the physical and spiritual realms. I do seek to wrestle with integrity over issues and integrate spirituality into daily life. I pray.
This prayer is something that I often close my public speaking with. It’s both a comforting and confronting prayer. It’s a big part of why I have a problem!
May God bless you with discomfort…at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships; so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger…at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people; so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears…to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war; so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness…to believe that you can make a difference in the world; so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
To face my own ignorance and indifference requires going deep. To go deep one requires an anchor. What anchors you in this life as you with courage and acceptance face up to your own problems?