What to Do When You Feel Helpless

Three incidents occurred this past week that have made me feel utterly helpless.

The first was a personal incident. 

I was finishing up a jog when I literally ran into someone from my past.  He was one of my best friends from middle school: someone who showed me a new world of music and had extensive knowledge and creative talent on the matter.  But I would never know that by looking at him now.  His face was covered in scabs, he was shaking, and when he pulled his hand out of his pocket to give me a fist pump, his hypodermic needle fell out of his pocket.  I knew he had been battling with addiction for many years, but I have never seen him in this state. 

I was in total shock and I didn’t know what to do.  Should I have called the cops? Should I punch him out and take away his drugs and money?  I knew he was on his way to purchase more drugs, and all I did was tell him that I wish he didn’t.  The endorphins I normally receive after a nice jog were nowhere to be found.  I felt totally helpless. 


Less than two days later there was a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, Russia, in which 10 innocent people lost their lives.  Although I have never been to Russia, I have been studying the language and its history for over three years and have made many Russian friends because of this.  But I did not see any signs of solidarity on my social media feed from those who are quick to do so if another country in Europe is attacked.  I can’t be too judgmental, because even I felt distant from it.  I guess I am still not immune to post Cold War propaganda. Again I felt helpless.  How should I react?  Could I even do anything in my power to prevent such an attack?  My initial answer was no.   


And then videos surfaced of Syrian children suffocating from a chemical attack by the Assad regime.  I am not Syrian or Arab, but I know many people who are – some refugees themselves – and this could have been them and their kin.  Even with this in mind, I do not need commonality to feel helpless towards the tragedy of the Syrian war.  This, in addition to the inaction of our world leaders, made me question if anything we are doing is worthwhile. 


I don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I’m trying to implement in order to keep hope alive. 


Strive to find inner peace


I’ve been meditating, praying, and avoiding alcohol and fast food.  Most recently, I’ve been listening to healing music.  Here’s a good one for starters.  Self care needs to be treated with the upmost importance.  Once you can take care of yourself you can sufficiently take care of others. 


Realize that everyone is “on fire”


Just because you can’t see someone’s pain does not mean it does not exist.  All of us are suffering, but we all handle it differently.  It’s up to those who recognize this that the actions from others who are causing distress for themselves and for others are going through their own personal hell: my friend who is battling drug addiction, the jerk at the bar, and yes, even the terrorist.


Don’t fall prey to fear mongering


Fear is a natural reaction to a violent attack, but it is not the correct reaction nor is it constructive.  Hate crimes have risen against Middle Eastern and Asian communities in recent years in the U.S. and in Europe.  Politicians and pundits want us to believe that there are only two narratives to the war on terror: us and them.  This mentality leads us down the rabbit hole that is the false narrative known as "the clash of civilizations" and demonizing large religious and ethnic groups, which only reciprocates more violence.  I might not be able to prevent the next terrorist attack, but I can make an effort to stop the cycle of violence by preventing the next hate crime.


Get out and get active


The fact of the matter is there is something you can do.  Thousands of organizations are in existence today because people were sick and tired of feeling helpless.  Whatever cause you are passionate about, there is most likely an organization out there doing great work. Help them out in any way you can!  And if there isn’t, there is nothing stopping you from filling that void.


Don’t give up hope


The last thing this world needs is for another person to become indifferent to the various issues facing our world.  It can be argued that indifference is the cause of why we are in the state we are today.  The suffering and oppression of others might be real, but it is not necessary.  It’s easy to give up.  But nothing worth fighting for is ever easy.


Good luck