At the beginning of this school year, I was tired. I was interning at a nonprofit trying to better the world in some small way but was seeing little to no results. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to save the planet via a temporary internship at a local nonprofit organization but I was surrounded by people there who truly wanted nothing more than to do that; tirelessly, constantly, incessantly. And all the while, the world felt like it was falling apart. A summer of immigration bans and failed climate agreements and terrorist attacks and mass shootings and political turmoil piled up around me.
The problem with wanting to fix things is that sometimes you kinda can’t. It’s out of scope, unrealistic, untimely or too late. And that feels like failure and that turns into exhaustion. So by the end of the summer I had given up, I was just tired of caring so much about everything.
The thing about passion is that it’s fire; a burning that gives you energy and makes your eyes light up and your Leslie Knope come out. But the thing about passion is that it’s fire; it can burn out if you don’t give it any fuel.
I was burnt out. Passion had given way to apathy.
I was trying to figure out how to shift my career plan before it was too late, to something easier, something I wouldn’t have to care so much about, something that wouldn’t take so much soul or burn so much of my fire.
You’ve probably heard the old adage like,
“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy.
‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment and ego.’
He continued, ‘The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf will win?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.”
Cut to a night when I was begrudgingly watching the Disney movie Tomorrowland with my family at home; half paying attention, half online shopping. This little parable was enough to pull my consciousness from the FreePeople website. I had heard the analogy many times, from many sources, all citing various old men who said this– probably none of them very accurate. But I’d never thought about it in a societal context before.
The whole movie is about saving the world from the futuristic apocalypse– of course. It was about finding the “dreamers”, the people who hadn’t given up on fixing the world yet. And by finding these dreamers who still believed they could do it, they inevitably saved the world in classic Disney fashion. They started feeding the right wolf.
This kind of hope is hard to maintain. There are some days that I wholeheartedly believe that I am somehow contributing in a small way to fix a small problem and that piece by piece, the world will be made better. But there are also days that I feed the other wolf. The wolf that has given up, complains about society on social media, points fingers, finds the bad in everything and tries to stay out of the whole mess, while doing nothing to fix it– therefore contributing to the monster. It is my scariest demon, this apathy. Wars aren’t won by passion, they are lost by indifference.
But over the course of this semester I have given myself a chance at more fuel– fuel so passion can burn. Take it in, soak it up, turn the sunlight into life. Fuel is the small successes. The things that work. It won’t be everything. They might not even be truly significant in the grand scheme of things. Little victories and sparks and proof that what we’re doing, it really does work. Slowly, surely, sometimes backwards, but there are golden days when it works.
This is what scares me most: that we might grow into our indifference like grey hair and wrinkled skin. That we will give up before we get anywhere. I almost did and some days I still almost do. That’s the real danger. Not icebergs melting and mutual assured destruction (okay, actually those are really, really scary and I’m terrified but I’m just trying to make a point). The real danger is that we leave the fixing to someone else. That we accept the bad things about this planet and look at our phones instead. That we bury our heads in memes and macchiatos and reality TV. That we become too damn exhausted to try anymore.
Keep drinking coffee.