Yesterday evening, I had an encounter that was at once a valuable lesson and a tragic reflection of the times we live in. As I was heading out of my house to run some errands, I passed an elderly man in my neighborhood who was acting erratically. I said hello to him and he replied back that he was trying to walk a straight line on a wooden block that separated the sidewalk from the lawn. I realized that he was intoxicated; instead of asking him if he was OK, I decided to do what many of us have become accustomed to doing and looked the other way. So desensitized by the sheer scale of human suffering, I found it easier to pretend like I saw nothing instead of getting myself involved in another person’s drama.
Upon my return, I saw the same man sprawled out on the ground. In shock at the sight, I ran over to check on him. At that exact moment, I saw blood on the ground and realized that the man was bleeding from a cut on his nose. He came to and rose from the pavement at which point I asked him if he wanted me to call for an ambulance. He refused my offer and started to talk about how messed up the world is and how we are being manipulated by powerful forces to fight against each other.
My indifference was washed away by seeing this man in so much turmoil and replaced with empathy. As much as I wanted to get back to my family and celebrate my birthday, I decided to talk to him and offer him some level of support. I told him that he can’t let the troubles of the world rob him of his joys. At which point he responded that he had no one and that no one cares about him; he was clearly in a place of hurt and I tried my best to give him a ray of light from my past experiences to let him know that present sorrows are not permanent.
But he was not really in a place to listen, he was stumbling in place and barely able to keep himself up. I decided to listen to him instead of preaching to him but eventually he went back to how the news is stirring up division and how politicians are intentionally pitting us against one another. After about 15 minutes of talking, he walked away and yet again refused when I told him that he should go to the hospital to get his cut looked at. I called the ambulance and gave a description of the man as he went about his way.
Suddenly the jubilant mood I felt the entire day was replaced with a cloud of sorrow for this man I’ve never met. The sadness gave way to a reflection and an understanding of my own journey. After all, what the man was stating is true, we do live in divisive times and our passions are in fact being stoked on purpose. However, it dawned on my that there is a difference between caring for justice and letting the injustices of this world destroy our peace of mind. We must guard our hearts jealously while doing our part to speak up for fairness; we cannot not let external iniquities rob us of our internal tranquility. Click To Tweet
This is a lesson I learned the hard way over the past ten months, after writing against the ongoing malfeasances taking place in my birthland Ethiopia and my new home America and highlighting the excesses of the ruling class for years, focusing on these issues started to take a toll. This came to a head last October when an outburst of violence based on ethnic grudges in Ethiopia led to the deaths of countless innocent people. At that same time, the “us versus them” narrative was reaching a fever pitch here in America. When I saw people jump on the bandwagon of tribal based grievances and in the process stir up the very same animosity that was the root of bloodshed, I grew despondent knowing that tribalism is something that is latent in humanity.
Despondence metastasized into full blown depression; day after day of consuming “breaking news” about conflict and violence back in Ethiopia and here in the states eradicated my serenity. That is why I stopped writing and withdrew from social media as a whole; it was not until I started working out, meditating, and taking care of myself that I was able to loosen the grips of depression and hope returned back to my spirits.
I write this for me as much as I write to the reader, do not let the negativities that multiply around the world subtract your mental and physical health. I am not advocating that we turn a blind eye and bury our heads in the sand for the sake of self-preservation, however neither should we diminish our lights in order to speak against the dark. It is good to care about others but we must equally care about ourselves.
Raging against outrage only leads to further rage, the only way we can bend the arc of history towards justice is through love. If it is world peace that we seek, it is imperative for each of us to first find peace within ourselves. Doing the opposite and screaming against injustice while neglecting self is not a solution, it is a pathway to destruction::
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