As an active member of a liberal arts college community, I have received a full academic serving of our world’s uncountable issues. Among many classes, I have watched miserable documentaries about corporate corruption, and others about gendered violence. I have read firsthand accounts of grim colonial racism and persecution. I’ve even discovered the factual horrors of factory farming and climate change.
My awareness of this wide spectrum of issues is certainly important. In fact, through my studies of these grim topics, I have changed my personal perspective in a multitude of ways. That said, there is no getting around the fact that these topics are depressing, and at times, hard to cope with.
One of the most difficult aspects of learning about a global issue is just that — it’s a global issue. When faced with such huge problems, it’s challenging not to feel powerless. I have found myself asking, “What can I really do about sexual assault in India?” or “What do I do about the cholera outbreak in Haiti?”
I don’t think there is one correct answer. Instead, I think it comes down to two things — perspective and personal responsibility. Perspective is extremely important when coming to terms with issues in the world. Instead of exclusively looking at the problems, we need to remember that there is immeasurable good as well.
Remember there are happy, healthy children, fulfilling relationships and people saved from illnesses and poverty every day. There are people passionately following their vocation, people making beneficial scientific discoveries and people simply having fun. I’m not saying that we should forget the problems. But I am saying that the positives in the world are just as important as their negative counterparts.
When it comes to personal responsibility, I think it is OK to say that we cannot personally solve everything. Activism is undeniably important, but not every person can be a passionate activist on every issue. We can’t donate to every single charity, but not donating to a specific charity doesn’t mean we don’t care.
Instead, it is up to the individual to decide her or his own personal best plan of action. I don’t think it is fair to develop a standard for “what it really means to care about an issue.” As a college student, I think it is critical to stay informed on issues and apply them as best as I can to my own personal choices.
For example, my class on gendered violence taught me to recognize warning signs of domestic violence and sexual assault. Thus, with my new awareness, I do the best I can to prevent these situations from happening to the people around me. At the same time, I haven’t volunteered at a battered women’s shelter or donated to a domestic violence related cause. But I don’t think that means I don’t care about the issue.
The bottom line is that as individuals, everyone can have a different response to an issue. As college students who are educated in many problems, we do not have to feel guilty about not being able to make a big of a difference as we’d like.