Don’t Worry

Last winter we had an unusually mild day in February, which is one of our coldest months.  For Minnesotans a warm day in February is nothing less than a miracle.  Mid-February, bright sun, no wind, and 55 degrees…this is a day to behold!  As I was crossing the street I noticed an acquaintance of mine walking her dog on the sidewalk.  I said to her cheerfully, “Isn’t this great weather?”  She replied, “Well it is good and it is bad.  It is good because it is so pleasant, but it is bad because this weather is a result of Global Warming, which is ruining the environment.”  From deep inside me a voice wanted to say to her, “Doggone it, lady, can’t you just enjoy something for once in your life without seeing the dark side?  You can’t do anything about global warming while you’re walking your dog, so please just “let go” and enjoy the weather!”

I think that sometimes all of us are like that lady.  Getting up and watching the morning news can be depressing to say the least.  Global warming, bird flu, child kidnappings, murders, the Iraq War, hurricanes, earthquakes, child pornography, wild fires, and floods dominate the headlines.  Most mornings by the time my cereal is finished I’m ready to go back to bed and lie in the fetal position for ten days!  Sometimes I avoid television news for a week simply to restore some semblance of psychiatric balance.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t a lot that I can do about the bad news on television.  Sure, I can try to convince my politicians to support legislation to reduce global warming, to get tougher on sexual predators, or to better contain wild fires, but I am only one person.  Politically I have no clout.  I couldn’t get an appointment with my Congressman if my life depended on it.  Economically I don’t have the resources to make a dent in the world’s problems or to put an end to poverty.  Even those who donate billions of dollars like Bill and Melinda Gates or Ted Turner have only a small influence on the enormous problems facing humanity.

This is not to say that individuals can’t make a difference.  I have been privileged to work with many good people in Rotary International.  We’ve gotten together to build a dam in India and provide wells in several small villages.  We’ve worked with Rotarians in Zimbabwe to dig a well and provide a storage tank in a rural village that badly needed clean water.  I’ll continue working on these projects, mainly because they can make the difference between life and death to those who are in need.  However, I continue on knowing that these works are a drop in the bucket compared to the enormity of human need.
I think all of us have heard the serenity prayer.  Maybe it could be re-written as:  “God grant me the serenity NOT TO WORRY about things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”  Because I can make only a limited difference, I resolve not to worry about problems that are beyond my control.  This is easier said than done, but on an intellectual level I’m sure we all realize that there is no rational reason for any of us to dwell on things that we cannot materially influence.
So go ahead and worry about whether or not your teenagers are using drugs or hanging out with the wrong friends.  This is a legitimate worry.  You should be keeping them on a short leash and making them accountable.  This takes effort and persistence on your part, but you are the parent and this is your job.  But for gosh sake, worry about your teenagers, don’t worry about the bird flu.   You have reasonable influence over the former and almost no influence over the latter.  Excessive worry, especially about things over which you have no control, will eventually lead to stress and ill health, ironically limiting your ability to affect the things over which you have some influence.

To conclude, when it’s February in Minnesota and its fifty-five degrees, enjoy the weather!

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