Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

I am a chronic overthinker – and it’s exhausting.

We live in such a complicated world. Almost anything we do will have a malign effect on someone, somewhere. For example, we start eating quinoa and we’re still basking in the glow of virtue when it turns out we are depriving people in Peru of a staple food by pricing it out of their reach. I think we Guardian-readers are particularly prone to this type of head-scratching activity.

I’m not knocking the Gruniad. And it’s right – essential -that we weigh up the moral consequences of our actions. But is it just me – or does anyone else find that sometimes it paralyses us?

A topical example is the whole food banks issue. I have been thinking of volunteering at my local FB for some time now. Okay, I’m scared. Scared of what I’ll see, what I’ll hear, and how powerless I’ll feel, and whether I’ll be able to cope or spiral into depression the way I have before. I don’t like admitting to such feelings. It’s altogether more socially acceptable to say that I’m deeply conflicted about participating in a charitable initiative that, certain political parties hope, will take the heat off them while they destroy the Welfare State. And that is true, to some extent. Except that while I blog about it, contemplate my navel and reach for another chocolate biscuit, people are going hungry and it’s a very long wait to the next election.

Similar dilemmas rear their head at work. I run a library in a school, a worthwhile job that I’m temperamentally suited to, but for historical reasons I won’t go into in great detail here (other than to say I used to be a committed Christian, and now that description is no longer accurate), the school I work in happens to be a faith school. If I had my time over again, I’d be a lot more critical of the concept of a faith school than I used to be – a view based on the way some of them (not specifically the one where I work) abuse their admissions policies. Does that mean I ought to resign? If I did, my principled choice would do little to change the world. Even if I joined the appropriate campaigning group and blogged about it, it would be forgotten soon enough. And a lot of children would miss me and have more limited opportunities to discover great books.

And so it goes on. I have read many online comments over the last few months and something that stands out about so many of them is that people delight in taking the moral high ground. Or so they think. In reality, this often boils down to sneering at the columnist for taking what they considered to be the least worst option. It is regrettably true that, at least online and often in real life as well, the best way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, and we can usually find a reason to justify that choice.

Because it is a choice, isn’t it? Doing nothing, I mean. If I go back to the food bank example above, and the fears I have, I realise that what I’m doing is projecting my feelings of helplessness as I sit here, blogging and fuming, onto an imagined situation when I’m actually doing something. I feel depressed because of the state the world is in, because so many people are going  to have a shit Christmas facing homelessness, penury and hunger through no fault of their own. So depressed, that my own comfortable Christmas fare turns to ashes in my mouth and ends up coming with a side order of guilt. And I remember someone saying once that depression = frozen rage. Maybe if I get out there, and actually do something, I will witness things which will break my heart and make me furious, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as depression.

I feel as if there is a new person inside me waiting to be born, and the labour pains are just getting to the stage where I can’t deny what is happening any more. I may join a political party, or volunteer somewhere, or start going back to church. I will always have issues with organised religion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I shouldn’t go. Because I feel, more than anything else, that I have to sign up to something and make this journey in the company of others. And time is running out. I will never find a group of people, whether they’re political, religious or just compassionate, non-aligned and decent, with whom I am completely in agreement. But isn’t it rather narcissistic to insist on that? If I help out at a food bank, frankly I don’t care what religion or none you are, or even if you’re a Tory sickened by the behaviour of your party leaders, as long as you’re beside me packing the bags.

Watch this space.

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2 thoughts on “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

  1. Life is short, and it can be cruel. I’ve read your blog with interest since discovering it a few months ago and find I feel similarly about a lot of the issues you write about. Even if your first step to helping at the Food Bank is taking along a couple of tins of food, that’s your journey started, so just do it. Oh, and then feel better that you’ve actually taken your first step to start to change the world. Good luck.

  2. Thank you. We’ve been at the tin and money donating stage for a while now, and I’m still figuring out what other type of engagement may be right, political or otherwise.

    Happy Christmas!

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