What can I do to make these feelings go away after a tragedy?

The terrorist hostage thing in Australia. It’s made me feel like shit. I don’t even live where it happened, but I just feel awful. I don’t know why I feel so bad - I mean, yeah, people were killed, and that’s horrible, but it has really got to me. I think it has a lot to do with the racism that sprang from it. A horrible thing happens, and some people react by being more horrible. What can I do to make these feelings go away? I know I can’t fix racism, but I just want to do something.


Find wisdom in the ants.

02-05-13-41-52 / 28


Hello Diner. Of all the questions to ask about this horrible incident, you probably asked the most answerable one. How do you make these horrible feelings go away? By asking, you may have helped other readers who have the same question. I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what you did there. Thank you, Diner.

As you figured out, the problem is very big. Too big. There are no answers to the hows and whys of both the cause and response of this event that will actually solve anything even with discussion and debate. Pundits and protestors alike will hammer and march on about ideologies and inequities; but until culture changes, and extremist violence becomes universal peace, this is the way of things. At this point, you seem to understand that reality, and you’re not asking about how to hold back a swollen flood with a small metal bucket. You just want the painful reality to stop hurting. With that, I can help you.

Before I continue, addressing your pain without talking about ways to approach the Elephant may seem like a very trivial way to answer this Order. We understand that humans are always asking how to make broad, sweeping changes. Your species is, if anything, ambitious. Don’t worry. We’ll definitely talk about it. Just know that your happiness and peace of mind are important in the grand scheme of a small Cookie’s life, so that answer comes first.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talked about how your mind takes shortcuts when faced with big abstract questions like, “How happy are you these days?” Instead, it answers simpler questions like, “how am I feeling right now?” Researchers found that if people thought of something that put them in a better mood right now, they considered themselves happier overall. Conversely when set up to be in a bad mood, people reported that they are generally unhappy.

So Diner, to make these bad feelings go away, you need to find ways to improve your mood. This Fortune talks about a few things you can do to refocus and recharge. Give yourself permission do something you’re good at. If you won’t give yourself that luxury, then let me tell you it’s OK. Just for the evening, or just for an hour, do something you enjoy. By doing what you love, you shape something that you can control into something beautiful–immune to the hatred and prejudice of others. This will give your mind time to reflect on that horrible incident. Destruction is as human as creativity. That’s just the way of things, and your mind will eventually soldier on.

But yes: I can still hear your cries of injustice. Apart from recollecting your peace of mind, how do you make a difference? You change one person at a time. It’s what you and I are doing here, Diner. I want my life’s work–this Fortune–to make the world a better place, and if it has changed one person for the better, then I’ve succeeded. If I wanted nothing less than sweeping, global impacts, I’d be long stale by the time I’ve achieved it. I would have squandered the only life I had worrying about something that may or may not come before my freshness date.

So instead, I look to change the small and seemingly insignificant. If you followed my advice, for a short time, you’ll be happier, and I would have made my impact. That’s how change occurs: everyone moving their own small and seemingly insignificant load. Little by little, whole civilizations move, but it starts with you and your small, but truly significant life. I hope you can see that. Good luck, Diner.

References:

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.