There was a shooting in Chattanooga, Tenn., today. Four Marines were apparently killed by a gunman motivated by religious hatred. That’s as much as I know about it — and that’s all I want to know.
When I was growing up, I thought it was everyone’s duty to be informed. By that, I meant one should read newspapers and watch news on television. It somehow seemed like the responsible thing to do. I thought news was important. That’s probably part of the reason I ended up spending a decade in the newspaper business.
But I pay little attention to news today. What’s more, I pay very little attention to the larger evils that I’m aware of. I know people are being slaughtered in various countries because of political and religious conflicts. I know that people are sitting in prisons — in the United States and around the world — who have no business being punished for things that shouldn’t even be crimes. I know that there is open slavery in some parts of the world. I know there is underground sex trafficking in most places. I know that women are abused and children are being taught to continue ugly cycles of evil all around the world, including near me.
I know that children and adults suffer in violent and dysfunctional households. I know that kids are being beaten and sexually abused pretty much everywhere, mostly hidden. I know that animals are being tortured and abused for the pleasure of evil people. I know that people mistreat each other and hate one another and excuse it in the name of religion or other beliefs.
There’s so much evil that it’s impossible to list it all. In fact, there’s so much evil in the world that much of it is so routine as to seem banal.
I’m not paying attention to any more of it than I have to, but it’s not that I’m callous. I actually care too much.
I care too much to treat it as entertainment. I care too much to look at it all the time and then go right on living my life as though nothing happened. I can either ignore it or I can become overwhelmed and go crazy.
I have had to learn to ignore evil — to ignore what we call news — because I’m not willing to sacrifice my life and destroy myself for nothing. I finally had to accept this brutal truth — that you can’t change everything that’s evil in the world. I had to learn that until you accept that, you’re not going to have peace in your life.
The world is full of voices lecturing us about doing something about all the world’s ills. We’re rarely told how we can stop evil, of course. We’re just exhorted to do impossible things.
Albert Einstein is frequently quoted as having said or written, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” Since so many supposed Einstein quotes are fakes, I don’t know if he said it or not, but the point is that this is the typical voice of wisdom in the world today.
And that “wisdom” is a path to misery in most cases.
People often express surprise that I read or watch almost no news anymore. When I explain my reasoning, they say things such as, “But surely you don’t think I should do nothing about all the terrible things going on.”
Actually, yes, that’s exactly what I think. Unless you are one of a very limited number of people whose actions can really change something related to a particular evil, I think you should do nothing — because there’s nothing you can do.
What can you do about periodic random shootings? Nothing.
What can you do about ISIS beheading people and releasing video for the world to watch? Nothing.
What can you do to stop the fighting in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians? Nothing.
What can you do to prevent Iranian religious leaders from hating Americans? Nothing.
What can you do to stop tribal and ethnic violence in Africa? Nothing.
The list goes on and on and on. For almost every single person who could possibly read this, there is nothing you can do to stop the evils you see reported on television and read about in newspapers.
If you’re one of those few people who can change something, do it. If you’re trafficking children for prostitution, well, stop it. If you know something that can stop such abuse, go ahead and do something with your knowledge. If you happen to be in a unique position and your action can stop some particular evil, go ahead. Do it.
Otherwise, accept the difference between what you can do and what you can’t do.
You can’t stop other people from being evil. You can only control your own actions. So what you can do is change your own mind and your own heart. You can change the way you personally treat people. As Jesus memorably said a couple thousand years ago, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 ESV)
I have to look away from some things, because I can’t concentrate on everything in the world. If I pay attention to all the things I can’t fix, it will break my heart. It will overwhelm me. It will depress me. And it will make me insane because of my inability to change what I see.
I can change myself. I can’t change others.
That’s why I don’t watch the news. That’s why I don’t read the news. That’s why I won’t be offering wise commentary on the shootings in Chattanooga and telling everybody how to solve the problems.
Life is more peaceful for me now that I’m not trying to fix everybody else. Improving myself is a full-time job.