The way information comes to us has become a rather fascinating thing. For one, we are not seeking stuff anymore, we are being found by articles, news flashes and petitions.
A while ago, I was having coffee with a wise friend. I ended up complaining, as one can easily do in the company of a caring companion. The root of the problem? I was feeling overwhelmed. I explained to my friend that I felt that there were just too many causes, too many campaigns, too many major crises facing our planet and the whole of humankind. I was met by a sympathetic response and a carefully weighed insight.
My sagely friend proceeded to draw a picture of a small circle inside a bigger one. The small circle, he said, was my circle of influence. The bigger one, my circle of concern.
When we are concerned about a large number of things, but feel that the power to do something about them is not within our reach, it can become the perfect recipe to brew frustration, and eventually a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Why is this a debilitating concoction? Simply because we are living in a world where – due to the extent of information reaching us – we can be concerned about countless things: from climate change, to plastic in the oceans, to divisive behaviour. We can easily have a massive circle of concern. And yet, our circles of influence simply do not develop that quickly. We are trying to make a difference, but quite often we end up hitting a brick wall.
We may then internalise our concern, allowing the initial concern to turn into unproductive worry. So what are we to do?
Firstly, we need to be mindful of the flow of information that reaches us. How many news sources am I following? Is it helpful to take note of seven different news feeds, or will two suffice? How can I cut back?
Secondly, I need to be mindful of where I am. I am – for example – a South African living in Johannesburg. Just recently, I was reminded that I should worry less about what happens in the US. I am here now. This is my place. I do not live in many places at once.
Thirdly, I should take steps that amount to actual action – should I want to change my concern into action. Is there a community project near me that I can get involved with? Can I help clean up my neighbourhood? Actually doing something has the magical ability to decrease the gap between concern and influence.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, it helps to live in community with others. I thrive when my perspective on world events is enriched by the opinions and insights of others. Chances are that I will gain a more balanced view of problems/world events if I have exposed myself to someone else’s take on a particular situation. Community also helps us to feel less lonely in our struggle to make sense of life. We are better together.
May you find a good way to not only cope but to thrive, wherever you may be. Understanding the link between your circle of concern and your circle of influence is one way of making life a little less harsh.