Once Mom was out of the hospital, she would frequently call me distressed over the state of the world. I’d tell her to change to the cooking channel. “But I have to know what is happening,” she’d argue.
“You really need to eat better. You need to take care of your mental health and half the news is simply manipulating you.” I’d answer. My words fell on deaf ears. I suspected Mom was addicted to the adrenalin boost she got from watching the news. Logic and reasoning failed to help her.
I finally used my professional skills and changed my approach with Mom. I’d say, “Did the firemen arrive? Are they using helicopters or airplanes to fight that fire? Did those people make it to a shelter?”
My change of focus dramatically changed Mom’s mental health. Despite being over ninety, stubborn, a huge drama queen, and prone to depression, Mom started looking for the helpers in times of tragedy. Once her focus changed, she saw that she could do things to help. If people from her church brought her yarn, she could crochet squares for blankets to send to those in need. She started hand-sewing quilt squares. She was still making quilt tops after she went into hospice care.
I won’t say we don’t have troubles in this world, we do. However, how you deal with the troubles becomes a matter of caring for your own mental health, and as Mom learned, you can be a helper.
Everyday, I encounter many people distressed over fires, hurricanes, and random violence. I find myself saying, “Yes, the gunman was evil, but look how many people risked their own life to save others. Look at the hundreds willing to lay down their lives for others. The good far outweighs the evil.”
As I keep telling the story of the school kid who started a campaign at his school to make hygiene kits to send to refugees, I feel stronger. I know I am on to something effective as I discipline myself to use the skills I learned in counseling classes to focus on the constructive aspects of any situation. There is power in focusing on the helpers and those who will risk their lives to help others.
There is a vast difference between focusing on the helpers in any situation and pretending we don’t have troubles. We do have troubles, but we also have people who are willing to stop what they are doing and stand up to those troubles.
Yes, the political response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, left much to be desired. Did you see how the local people handled the problem? Did you see how many people turned their own private home into a shelter for their neighbors? Have you seen the pictures of the local men out clearing roads? In Houston, did you see the pictures of people towing their boats toward the city to help with evacuations?
The political figures and the media want our attention. Our attention gives their lives meaning and power. I would much prefer to give meaning to the common person, who goes out and pulls tree limbs out of the road by his house. I prefer to give power to the high school kid who organizes his school and community to send thousands of hygiene kits to evacuees. You know, that school kid has more power than the media person who sits in front of a camera and talks about his opinion without really doing anything to help those in need.
Yes, tragedy is part of the human condition. How we respond to that tragedy is our choice. We can become a helper by donating money or by organizing an effort to send supplies to those in need. We can respond to tragedy by reminding others that the good people in this world vastly outnumber the evil. We the common people can have more power than the power elite when we focus on the helpers, encourage others, and wherever possible become a helper ourselves. We have great power because when we work together, there are more of us than there are evil people. Together, we are even stronger than the hurricanes.