Do something

Feeling powerless and advice from experts

Afghanistan, the Delta variant, earthquakes, massive wildfires. 

I could go on, but I’d rather not. I’m discouraged by the news, and all this bad news has made me feel powerless and overwhelmed.

No matter how motivated I am to “do something,” what can one person do to address the overwhelming number of problems in the world? 

Finding solutions, not followers

It’s a question I always put to our podcast guests.

When we invite people into conversation at Civil Squared, we’re not looking for those who shout the loudest or who have millions of followers on social media who share their righteous indignation. We’re looking for people who are creative and entrepreneurial in their attempts to answer the question, “What can I do to make the world around me better?” 

Revisiting expert advice

As I’ve felt powerless these past few weeks, it occurred to me that revisiting the advice these experts offer could be worthwhile. Here’s what I found:

  • Say what you think – It might not seem like much given the problems we’re facing, but over and over, guests (like our current podcast guest, Greg Newburn) have answered the question of “What can I do?” this way. We underestimate the importance of speaking up on issues that matter to us. Voicing our opinion might not solve the problem, but we’ll feel less powerless because we find others who agree or offer new perspectives. We might also learn about resources we can consult and action we can take. If we don’t speak up, that won’t happen.
  • Share information – Shruti Rajagopalan knows a lot about seemingly insurmountable problems in her home country of India. When I asked her what people like me can do, she encouraged our listeners to share information. Again, it might not seem like much, but making the right connections to important information or opportunities can have life-changing consequences, and she described several of those in our conversation.
  • Make yourself uncomfortable – Feeling powerless is uncomfortable so this might seem counterintuitive, but one action we can take is forcing ourselves to confront uncomfortable ideas and listen. Many of our guests, including Alice Siu, recounted stories of major change that came from open-minded listening to opinions someone found objectionable. Don’t believe climate change is real or think it is the most urgent problem we have? Listen without interruption to someone who is convinced you are wrong. That interaction might prompt both of you to take action neither of you had previously considered, and at a minimum, it will expand your understanding of the world around you.

All this advice won’t bring peace to Afghanistan or stem the tide of bad news, but it could result in change in your community and help you overcome the feeling of being powerless. 

There is a real downside to feeling powerless. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been short-tempered and pessimistic, and that affects the people closest to me. In the same way that productive conversation can have an exponential effect on others, the frustration of powerlessness multiplies quickly. Following the advice of those who are working to make their communities better will at least help me to feel like there’s something I can do.