I’ve been on this journey of conscience for a while. Here’s a blog post from August 16, 2014:
Occasionally I cry myself to sleep. The last time I did, I just couldn’t stop thinking about polar bears and elephants. I sobbed as silently as I could in order not to wake my husband. My whole body clenched in grief and my pillow became wet with tears as I contemplated a world without any polar bears or elephants living in the wild.
The question, I feel, should not be about why I was crying. Instead, it should be about why I don’t cry myself to sleep every night. If not about the loss of wildlife, then about widespread human starvation, or about lonely and marginalized homeless people in my city, or about entrenched racism leading to the shooting death of another unarmed black man.
Of course, I can’t cry myself to sleep every night without compromising my own mental health. Descending into despair or depression wouldn’t help anything.
And so I decide how to relate to the world based more on pragmatism than on my conscience or the state of my heart. “You can’t let it bother you too much,” I’ve been told. At other times people remind me, “You can’t take care of everything, you just focus on doing what you can.” There is wisdom in these approaches, certainly. I have to find ways to cope with the cognitive dissonance created by going about my everyday life while other beings are experiencing unimaginable suffering and our levels of consumption are threatening the viability of life on our planet.
But here’s the problem. I have to allow myself to be bothered in order for my compassion and concern to be aroused. And while I can’t take care of everything, I have to explore with deadly seriousness whether I am really doing what I can. What does that mean? Doing what fits into my budget and schedule but doesn’t make me too uncomfortable? Devoting all of my spare time and resources to good causes, sacrificing almost all leisure and pleasure? Adopting a radically self-sufficient lifestyle, setting aside most of the other activities I do to benefit the world, in order to grow and cook my own food and sew my own clothes? (Do you have any idea how much time that takes?)
I love nothing more than to feel I am living in harmony with my conscience. When I feel that way, my heart is calm even in the face of great trouble and suffering. I am ready to respond and free from defensiveness. My mind settles down because I stop trying to justify my actions or figure out what I should do.
I want to live more in harmony with my conscience in a world that might very well be without wild polar bears and elephants in a matter of decades… [Clearly,] each person must make such a journey of conscience for themselves. When it comes to the details, we’ll all arrive at different answers. But when it comes to the essence – finding a way to live as compassionately and responsibly as we can – the journey is the same.