In the Face of Absurdity

55Let’s watch cable news, for a while. Or any news, broadcast, posted, streamed or written.

If we do this during a political season, we will hear or see what resembles dramatic comedy, or maybe tragic comedy. Candidates of opposing parties fling incessant attacks, campaign staffs spout strange rationales, and political reporters thrust endless questions at those seeking office.

But serious discussion and critical ideas do emerge. And while alternately entertaining and depressing, the political process, and the news that reports on the process, provide bulwarks against oppression by the powerful and safeguards for the freedoms of our country.

So in the absurdity of politics lies the defense of our liberties.

But on the news, politics does not present the greatest absurdity.

Rather keep watching. The truly heart-rendering will break through, the distressing reality of real, devastating tragedy. Floods destroying homes, war devastating nations, hurricanes wreaking destruction, earthquakes leveling whole towns, starvation sweeping drought-ravaged countries, diseases spreading through communities, bombs demolishing entire city areas, crime gripping cities. And people. People suffering and dying, Senselessly, endlessly, innocently. Including children. Children, who should be happy, but instead stricken, scared, scarred, gaunt, withdrawn, and dying.

Clearly, it is not in these tragedies that the absurdity lies. No, these tear the heart and sear the sensibilities.

But keep watching. News outlets must pay the bills. So commercial breaks come. With long sequences of ads. Improved dog food, better pillows, superior laundry detergent, magical facial crèmes, luxury clothers, better pizzas.

The juxtaposition assaults the mind, depicting in one minute a destitute child beside a bombed out building desperate for food and clothing, then in the next minute a cheery ad on how to remove a food stain from one’s clothes. The stark and unspeakable pain and trauma of that destitute child renders trivial the concern of the ad character over a stain on the back of their shirt sleeve.

But then again not. Our economy, the economy across the world, now depends on the purchase of that laundry detergent, or that dog food, or those facial crèmes, or hundreds of other convenience, beauty, fashion and other products and services. Those purchases drive jobs for workers, and working people make incomes for the sustenance and nurturing of children and families.

Here then lies the absurdity we face. The tragedy of war juxtaposed with the minutia of laundry detergent juxtaposed with the underpinnings of our economy.

How do we respond? How do we remain sane when we, or our neighbors, or our fellow citizens support their families, or we support ours, by dedicating dozens of hours a week at a job say color testing laundry detergent? Or doing focus groups on pillow shape? Or optimizing packaging machines for dog food? How, knowing thousands, even millions, suffer and at the extreme die during those dozens of hours of starvation, disease, crime, war, conflict, and natural disasters?

Well, some certainly see this absurdity, and make the leap. They drop their lives and go to help. Maybe we all should, but then again, most of us lack the skills to doctor the sick or expertise to instruct the hungry on agriculture or the techniques to build the illiterate a school, and certainly the experience to step in and negotiate a peace.

And we must care for our own families.

So what do we do? We could ignore. No law, or contract, or promise forces us to care for individuals removed from us, including and especially those in other countries and of foreign cultures. We could rationalize. In most situations, we did not cause the suffering and plight of others, and we may even conclude those in need brought it on themselves. We could plead a lack of time or energy, or of being overwhelmed by life’s burdens. Just making it through our daily efforts saps us.

Deep in our conscience though, we sense the inadequacy of these responses. While some of us truly are burdened, many of us enjoy a reasonable existence, maybe not comfortable, or always pleasant, but a life with bearable hardships and sufficient necessities, with adequate even significant happiness and love.

So we, when all is said, feel a duty to those in deep need, to the severely sick, the constantly hungry, the unendingly exposed to war, the suddenly devastated by natural disaster.

What do we do? Can we do something meaningful, even in our frenetic modern lives? Can we really assist?

Yes, and even if we doubt our efforts render much improvement, we must.

What then do we do?

First, if one believes in a supreme entity, pray. This may seem to some odd as the first action listed. But yes many, including maybe you, believe, and to the degree a God exists, to ask that God to assist others in need stands as reverent and noble. Physical miracles seem rare in our times, and we may judge a God will not directly stop a war or halt a hurricane. But we can believe a God will intervene with those who are open to Him, to strengthen those individual’s commitment, energy, wisdom and fortitude to help those in deep need.

And donate. If we can not go to directly help those in need, we certainly can financially support those that can and do. Small donations, large donations, regular donations, donations of whatever amount we can afford, together enable both ongoing and emergency help. Concerns can arise as to the legitimacy of some charitable groups, but reputable organizations publish information about their sources and uses of funds.

Then attend to family. This may seem obvious, but each family, extended or small, and however defined, caring for their own creates an enormous web of support and consideration. Parents securing their children’s well-being and development, siblings pitching in for each other in times of need, grown children caring for their aging parents, the cycle of the family underpins the strength of the entire community, nation, and world.

And act in noble character. We enter this world, especially in America, blessed. We enter a country that offers freedoms, a culture that allows diversity, and an economy that provides opportunity. Not perfectly, or even acceptably in cases, with much improvement needed, but nonetheless better than any nation or time previously. We did not pay for these blessings; they arrived at birth. And while every day we must work and toil to use these benefits, and maintain and improve them, we should respect the gifts that arrived at our birth. We do so by acting in noble character, by withstanding daily slights, by spreading kindness and cheer, by lending a quick helping hand. To act such may not directly help those in the middle of a civil war, but does respect that those and others face worse tribulations that most of us.

These steps take effort, and focus, and energy. They represent a strong moral response. We should embrace them as best we can and as best we are inclined as our give back to our fellow individuals and as our duty to our community, nation and world.

But some may judge they must do more.

Volunteer. We spend almost innumerable hours with video entertainment, whether streaming, or watching television, or with our electronic devices. The weight and frenzy of modern life does sap our energy and drive, and our time relaxing with the video, or game, or social media, of our choice does provide recharge and diversion. But, at the margin, we could divert time to volunteer.

Many do. The next-to-saintly go all in, traveling across the country or throughout the world to assist the sick, the hungry, the war-torn, the disaster-stricken, the poor. I stand in admiration. They possess a special spirit. If we can not match such beneficence, we can volunteer in a meaningful way. Coach a youth sports team, serve on a school advisory board, assist in a church fund raiser, run a pledge race, hand out groceries at a local food bank. Of even work the phones to secure contributions of construction materials for that group going overseas to build medical buildings.

Advocate. Not stridently. Not myopically. But with intelligence. If a local high school needs updated lab equipment, certainly advocate for that, and bring others in since numbers bring strength. But help work the solution. Funding always creates a hurdle, and seeking discounts, or grants, or product tie-ins, might ease the needed equipment into the budget.

Embrace possible complexity. Does the increasing presence of driver assisted technology in autos provide an avenue to reduce drunk driving? Can social media allow the community elder center to keep better in touch with its users? Advocacy thus seeks not only to uncover issues and needs, but to also solve, and as necessary cooperate and innovate.

We can not (readily) end the absurdity of news juxtapositions, of heart-wrenching images of refugees fleeing war-devastated cities followed by hair-coloring commercials. Admittedly, news includes more serious commercials, for heart medications, or legal redress. But then again, a child suffering from malnutrition cares not of heart medications he or she may never reach an age to need, and a family caught in a tribal purge can not stop their danger with a law suit.

And ending the absurdity creates ripples. Neighbors make their living working in stores that sell hair coloring, and fellow citizens work for the firms producing the product.

So as we observe this absurdity, rather than shut off our mind to ignore, or throw up our hangs in a futility, we take rational steps. We pray, if that falls in our world view. We donate, we care for our family, we embrace nobility. And if we can, and we should examine deeply what prevents us, we would volunteer, and advocate.