aging parentsWhen we are dealing with an aging parent, guilt, frustration, and anger can overwhelm us. These feelings can be worse if we layer on top of them the pain and suffering we see in the world around us. We see terrible world events with intense suffering and a callous disregard for people.

How do we stop to take stock and make sense of it all? How do we cope in our own lives when we feel crushed by events?

One way to find meaning is through art. Art – whether it is paintings, music, books or movies – can help us make sense of the world around us.

As we watch world events unfold, we can feel like we have no control over the big events. This can lead to a feeling of loss of control and even depression. We can feel overwhelmed by both the big events and the more personal ones facing us.

So what do we do?

I was reminded of a scene from the Hobbit…

The great minds are seated around a table discussing whether or not evil has returned to Middle Earth. The chief wizard Saruman was sure that there was nothing to worry about… and does not approve of the dwarves’ quest to take back the mountain from the dragon Smaug.

As the discussion winds down, the elf Lady Galadriel asks Gandalf why he choose a halfling (Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit) to take part in the dwarves’ quest. Gandalf says:

‘Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small things everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love….he gives me courage.’

The vast majority of us will not be called on to give a military response to the evil of Paris, Beirut, Aleppo or Istanbul. We will live our ordinary lives far from bomb blasts and Kalashnikov assault rifles but we still have a role to play in ‘keeping darkness at bay’.

Simple acts of kindness and love – everyday.

It is easy to be shocked by world events. But after a period of time, we shake off the event and get back to normal. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. We need to continue to pay attention to our daily lives. That is where we can make the real difference. The mistake we make is when we don’t think our daily actions make a difference to the bigger picture.

Our daily actions do make a difference.

The Butterfly Effect

If you have ever read The Butterfly Effect by Andy Andrews you will know the power of small actions. He tells the story of Norman Borlaug who was named Person of the Week on April 2, 2004 for saving two billion people from famine. How did he do that? By creating special high yield, disease resistant corn and wheat. But as Andy goes on to show in his book, Norman owed his success to Henry Wallace. Henry Wallace was Vice-President of the United States for one term. During his term he set up a station in Mexico to work on this special corn and wheat for dry climates. Henry Wallace hired Norman Borlaug to run the station. So Henry Wallace was really responsible for Norman Borlaug’s success.

Who influenced Henry Wallace?

It was George Washington Carver. George Washington Carver used to take Henry Wallace on ‘expeditions’ when the boy was six years old and instilled in him a love of plants. This love of plants was instrumental to his actions when he became Vice-President. And George Washington Carver? He is famous for his development of the peanut and the sweet potato but less known for his impact on the six-year old boy. It was that small act of kindness that had such a huge impact on Henry Wallace.

Who influenced George Washington Carver?

George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri. One night his mother Mary Washington was dragged off into the night by some raiders. She refused to let go of her infant son George. Mary had been very good friends with Sarah Carver.  Sarah was distraught at the abduction of her friend. Her husband Moses Carver worked to retrieve them from the raiders and was successful in getting the infant George. Susan and Moses raised George as their own. He eventually completed his Masters degree in botany and went on to become a world famous botanist.

So was it really Moses Carver who saved the two billion people?

You can see through Andrews’ storytelling the impact of choices and actions on the future. He makes the compelling case that our actions today have an impact on tomorrow.

So choose your actions wisely.

The Kindness Challenge

I believe that actions of kindness count exponentially. Simple acts of kindness can have a profound effect.

Shaunti Feldhahn launched a Kindness Challenge this year. The ‘Kindness Challenge’ asked people to do three things:

  1. stop saying negative things to or about someone,
  2. say positive things to and about them instead, and
  3. do small acts of generosity.

She found that when people did this for 30 days, 89% of them found that their relationships improved.

So when you look forward to your 2017, concentrate on kindness. While life may feel overwhelming, it is in those small details of ordinary life, the caring for others, where we can sow love and kindness. We can play our part, in holding back the darkness and changing the world.