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Worrying too much (and avoiding charity)

“One mustn’t assume burdens that God does not lay upon us. It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know). A great many people… do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don’t think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we’re doing it, I think we’re meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds’ song and the frosty sunrise….It is very dark: but there’s usually light enough for the next step or so.”

— C. S. Lewis

That was written in the 1940s when media content, and its impact, was a mere fraction of what it is today. Let’s unpack this quote in today’s context, where it is even more relevant than ever before.

It goes like this:

  1. The sorrows of the wider world, along with its gossip, political propaganda, and entertainments (all delivered by masterpieces of manipulative machinery designed to sell you something) come to us every morning…and then again each minute thereafter until we go to sleep.
  2. Though we know we can do little or nothing to help most of it, we fear missing out on it anyway.
  3. In fact, when faced with an idle moment in our day, we habitually turn to consume even more of it.
  4. Why? Because there, awkwardly staring at us in an idle moment, is the proximate present. The here and now. The hard things in front of us which we can help, and which therefore lay real moral claim to us.
  5. In order to justify ignoring such immediate moral obligations to the proximate present (the needs immediately around us), we convince ourselves that “worrying” about far away things instead is actually meritorious enough.
  6. Hence, real charity (which involves personal sacrifice) is avoided and replaced by a “wokeness” culture, where mere awareness (and the virtue signaling that trumpets it) is the real goal.

In short, to escape the inconvenient burdens immediately in front of us (i.e. the ones to which we have an obligation), we replace them with far away issues, which we cannot do much about, and then commend ourselves for doing “all that we can.” After all, what else can we be reasonably expected to do about such far away sorrows but to sentimentalize them, worry about them, use the #hashtag, buy the bumper sticker, watch the documentary, share the link, make a donation, perhaps even change my social media profile picture temporarily? Once I’m woke to it, and sanctimoniously let everyone know it through social media posts and self-righteously blaming far away “groups” and abstract “systems,” I’m safe to get back to my own self-indulgent life…monitoring the sorrows, gossips, and entertainments of the world as they come to us each morning.

How many of us gladly follow endless amounts of gossip and media about people and governments far away from us, but have no clue who our mayor or congressperson or county commissioner is? How many champion protecting “the environment,” but have no time to pick up trash on their own street? How many romanticize meeting new people, but don’t know their neighbor next-door? Oh how we love humanity! But humans? No thanks, I prefer dogs.

It is all an escape from the hard things—the sacrifices, the charity, which sanctifies us— which are waiting right in front of us. It’s a subconscious way of avoiding the proximate present. It’s a form of non-living. And then, despite the effort, we still end up worrying way more than we should!

It’s a relief to learn that you can let go of most of your worries. You truly can. Life can be much simpler, though perhaps harder. It’s all right in front of you, in “the light of the next step.” Right here, right now. Worry less, love more.

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