No four words in the English language are more potentially damaging than “it’s not my problem.”
The phrase carries an air of flippant apathy that is so seductive and simultaneously so destructive.
Whether it’s someone whose car has broken down on the side of the road, or someone who needs a hand crossing the street, or an overworked janitor who sweeps the floor we’re currently walking on, or violence and discrimination breaking out thousands of miles away, it is all connected and it effects every single one of us in some way.
But it’s so easy to turn away. And it’s so easy to look down at our phones. And it’s so easy to think about all of the things we have to do today. And it’s so easy to tell ourselves that someone else is taking care of it. And it’s so easy to rationalize that it is indeed not our problem. And it’s so easy to come up with a thousand reasons why we don’t have to concern ourselves with whatever it is that’s currently happening.
And, of course, we can’t take on all the world’s problems or even most of the world’s problems. We can’t rally around every cause. We can’t give ourselves to every injustice. And we shouldn’t. Trying to solve every problem is a great way to ensure that nothing is solved and that we end up losing our collective minds.
But it is worth recognizing that where there’s pain, it is everyone’s problem. Where there’s suffering, it is everyone’s problem. Where there’s injustice, it is everyone’s problem. Once we’ve recognized these things, we can then decide how we want to react.
And regardless of the decisions we make, we should understand that if given enough time, these things will not exist in a vacuum that only directly affects the people and institutions that are closest to them. They might exist in this vacuum for a few days, or weeks, or years, or even decades, but eventually, these issues and systemic problems will affect everyone in some way.
We can ignore these things if we want to, and it’s really quite easy to do. But if we ignore these things for long enough, they’re going to fester and metastasize until they can no longer be ignored.
The unpleasant truth is, we’re all connected. As human beings. As men. As women. As mothers. As fathers. As daughters. As sons. As friends. As co-workers. As strangers on the street.
We are all, every single one of us, connected.
No matter how much we’d like to think that what happens in one corner of the world or in one far-away neighborhood does not affect our corner of the world or our neighborhood, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As much as we’d like to think that we’ve managed to insulate ourselves from problems and issues that other people are having or problems and issues that are systemic in our society, there’s no way for us to exist in some safe space where these things do not effect us and our loved ones in some way.
The fact that we’re all connected is a scary realization to come to terms with. Because, in some ways, it forces us to face our own fragility and mortality. And because it means that as long as there is pain or suffering or injustice anywhere in the world, it is everyone’s problem.
Of course, even after accepting the fact that we’re all connected, it’s totally fine to utter the phrase “it’s not my problem,” over and over again until the words barely retain their meaning. But as these words are coming out of our mouth, we should at least be aware of what we’re actually saying.
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