The emotional stress that our political, cultural and socio-cultural systems are putting on us every day is reaching a boiling point in our country. Since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, it feels as if the whole country has been on edge. Health care has been threatened. North Korea has been building missiles. Entertainers have been knocked down daily for contributing to the rape culture. Beloved icons are now hated villains. Politicians are being outed as predators after being nominated and/or elected. Tax rates are up in the air. Uncertainty at every turn. And Christmas is just around the corner, causing even more issues with family and economic stress. Yet with all the mess that has been produced and perpetuated, the best thing that we, as a country, as a people, can do is step back and remember that most of us are just small people stuck in big times.
For years I was a literature teacher. I’ve taught some of the greatest novels and poems and showed some of the greatest films ever made to high school and college students to help show how others view our insignificance in the overall bigger picture. Average people aren’t insignificant, but the contributions over time may not be as overarching as they think.
In J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, after Bilbo Baggins helps Gandalf and the dwarfs restore order to Middle Earth (an allegory for wars won by the West) the wise wizard reminds Bilbo, a hobbit, that life is bigger than his accomplishments. Here Gandalf reminds him of destiny and that many come together to create havoc and heroes:
“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies just because you helped them come about. You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck? Just for your sole benefit? You’re a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I’m quite fond of you. But you are really just a little fellow, in a wide world after all.”
This passage always reminds me that where people make their biggest mistake is in thinking that one idea or one person can change the world. So often the horrors of life come out in all their ugliness, and they believe a march or a rally or a social media post can alter the course of human history. While all of those well-intentioned acts can plant seeds, they cannot by themselves transform the society into the utopia that some desire. The recent World War II film Darkest Hour shows that perfectly. While Churchill was at the forefront of making decisions, it took militaries, parliament votes, collations and even the opposition to push Churchill’s vision. Considered by some to be greatest man of the 20th century, he was just one man, and while he may get the credit, the world has still survived long after he died.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet deals with the mortality of people, too, and how they come and go:
“Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth in to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.”
My point is not to bore you with old senior-year literature or depress efforts in social change. My point is to remind us that while we can be angry and scared and mad as hell, we must not forget to focus on the little things of life that we can control. While Louis C.K.’s behavior angers me, I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. I can’t stay on-edge all day thinking about the behaviors of strangers. It’s not healthy. Instead of dwelling on the horrors of life, let’s always take time to focus on the ways we can improve life for others.
That’s the point behind Charles Dickens’[ A Christmas Carol. Once Scrooge stopped focusing on himself and loved the people in his life, that’s when he got to hear Tiny Tim say, “God bless us, every one.” No other truth is more important.
With that, maybe instead of focusing this Christmas on the scandals and sadness of life, let’s look to love, to help and to bless others this season.