Starfish responsibilityThere seems to be an air of helplessness in the world today, rather than responsibility. If you watch the news you’ll be scared half to death by any number of things. Lately, politics and coronavirus are the most pressing, so I’ll use those as a jumping off point.

In many of my recent conversations about politics, the eventual conclusion we’ve arrived at is “it’s all a mess and there’s no way we can fix all of these problems.” This is probably true to some extent. One vote won’t change much. Yet this is what I believe is the biggest problem in politics and perhaps the world as a whole: apathy.

It’s easy to feel helpless. When there are so many things to worry about or the sheer scale of a problem begins to overwhelm you, it’s almost a default mode for the human brain. Just give up. We can’t possibly solve all of these problems, so why bother at all? It’s clear how this way of thinking is problematic. For example, if nobody votes, the whole system breaks down.

The coronavirus is the biggest story in the news right now. For those of you reading this in the future when (I hope) this is no longer a thing, the coronavirus is basically a very contagious flu that according to recent reports will spread to 40-70% of the world’s population. Supplies of face masks and rubber gloves are running out and everybody is somewhat rightfully freaking out. Yet freaking out doesn’t help any more than apathy does. In fact, it can be worse.

In a real self defense situation, most people get into trouble because they lose control of their minds. They either freeze up or freak out. What we really want to be able to do is calmly assess the situation and respond well. This takes practice. It is said that a samurai should make any decision within the span of seven breaths. Breathing keeps the warrior calm. The time limit promotes decisive action without letting the warrior second-guess themselves.

What we really want is to take responsibility for whatever we can do instead of worrying about the things we cannot change. Rather than freaking out or being apathetic about politics, vote. Encourage your friends to do the same. Rather than freaking out or being apathetic about the spread of the coronavirus, wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick. Encourage your friends to do the same. You might not have a massive impact, but there is always some amount of responsibility you can take. Calmly assess what that responsibility is and take quick and decisive action.

A simple fable that demonstrates the idea of responsibility is one that many of you have heard before.

A man is walking along the beach when he looks down and sees an incredible sight. The sand is blanketed with millions of starfish. Looking up the coast in astonishment, he spots someone in the distance bending down and then throwing something into the water. He approaches and sees a woman scooping up another starfish and throwing it back to safety. Then another.

“What do you hope to accomplish here?” He asks. “You can’t possibly save all of them. You aren’t making a difference.”

As a response, the woman bends down, picks up another starfish, and throws it into the ocean.

“I made a difference for that one.”