Recently, I came across a brilliant article by author Ephrat Livni on dealing with dark times. It starts with a Japan Times quote from novelist Haruki Murakami, who wondered how to help people in the wake of 9/11:
I was wondering what could I do for the people who have suffered. But I thought, ‘What I can do is to write good fiction.’ After all, when I write a good story, good fiction, we can understand each other if you are a reader and I’m a writer. There is a special secret passage between us, and we can send a message to each other. So I think (writing good stories) is a way I can contribute to society or people in the world.
Livni goes on to talk about the value of making art during times of tragedy and of cultivating mystery in times of crude sloganeering. (Seriously, go read the article. I can’t do her justice because she is absolutely transcendent.) She also talks about tikkun olam:
In the Jewish tradition, the concept of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world”, is very simple. Any activity that leads to a more harmonious state is valid and valuable. The Chabad organization website, which illuminates Jewish mysticism, explains, “All human activities are opportunities to fulfill this mission, and every human being can be involved in tikkun olam, child or adult, student or entrepreneur, industrialist or artist, caregiver or salesperson, political activist or environmentalist, or just another one of us struggling to keep afloat.”
Each act of repair fine-tunes the instrument that is the universe, and you don’t have to be religious or artistic or political to participate. You just have to be a human. As Chabad puts it, “With each [fix], we are creating meaning out of confusion, harmony from noise, revealing the unique part each creation plays in a universal symphony.”
I was intrigued by the idea and followed all of Livni’s links down the rabbit hole to learn more. (They’re included above.) The idea that really resonated is that you don’t have to take on the great tragedies of your time to participate in repairing the world. You only have to repair yourself. Any act of healing heals the world.
Since my eyes look outward, it’s easy for me to see all the things that should be fixed out there. It’s easy to complain and to find fault with the world. It takes no particular skill to tell other people what they’re doing wrong and to throw my hands up in despair at all of the work that isn’t being done. It’s easy, but it doesn’t solve any problems.
The fact is, I’m too small to fix the world. But I’m just the right size to fix myself. And I am a part of the world. When I fix my small corner, I am mending the world. If we all worked on repairing ourselves first, finding ways to contribute our small skills and our fragments of wisdom, we could make a very big impact. As my former student and Agent of Eris Holly Brantley says, “Progress is progress. They don’t have to be big steps, just steps in the right direction.”
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