What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.

Image from a Buzzfeed article on 21 Perfect German Words We Need in English. Check it out, there are some beauties there.

There are so many things to worry about right now. So many things to care about and feel anxious about and powerless to correct.

For a start, in Ireland the number of people being made homeless is going up every week and the government don’t seem to be doing anything about it. There’s the shamefulness that is Direct Provision where the government is paying companies large amounts of money to keep people seeking refuge in intolerable conditions. Ibrahim Halawa will spending a fourth birthday in jail in Egypt as his trial was postponed for the 16th time and we are still forcing women to travel aboard for a basic medical procedure.

Further afield, there’s the uncertainty of Brexit to worry about as well as the hundreds of unaccompanied children that were recently moved out of the Jungle in Calais and sent who-knows-where. France is still under a state of emergency after two brutal terrorist attacks, refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean, bombs are raining down on civilians in Syria, millions who fled the war there are living in refugee camps and Israel cut off the water-supply to Palestine during Ramadan this year, just the latest in a long series on attacks on the Palestinians.

And that’s all before we start worrying about climate change or what will happen under the Trump presidency.

It’s hard. It’s hard to take it all in, to feel all that fury and sorrow. In the face of so much horror it’s easy to run out of feelings. Even when you feel like you want to help, how do you choose which of the heart-breaking issues to focus on? Sometimes it’s easier to throw up your hands up and do nothing, feel nothing and just try to have a good time because it’s becoming increasingly obviously that the whole world is going to shit. It’s a pretty bleak way of seeing the world and it’s hard to sustain because the horrors keep creeping in.

When the bleakness is threatening to overwhelm me, I take solace from this quote.

“Of course individuals can make a difference, but the fact is that evil has had the whip hand in this world since Cain. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to be good, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves, either. Evil is not going to be vanquished. Our job is to resist it, and to plant the seeds of further resistance so that goodness never entirely vanishes from the universe.”

Chris Cleave, author of The Other Hand/Little Bee.

I like it because it lets me off the hook a little bit. Once I accept that I can’t fix everything, it’s easier to just concentrate on what I can do. I can’t knock evil off it’s perch, but I might be able to balance the scales a bit. It’s helps me feel less useless and more hopeful because it suggests that the little acts of resistance, of goodness, of kindness do make a difference.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing. It chases away the hopeless, useless feeling; at least for a little while. So what can we do? There’s the usual things – donate money, volunteer, get on the streets and protest, write letters to governments at home and aboard. Volunteer.ie have a database of volunteer opportunities. Giving blood is good if you’re short on time and money because it’s costs nothing and you can only do it once every three months.

But if you feel completely overwhelmed and really don’t know where to begin, or feel like you want to do more but don’t know where to start, I suggest getting a few friends together and start a “change the world” group. (Your first order of business may be to give it a better, catchier name.) It can be part support group, part action group. Meet up regularly, talk about the things that are upsetting you about the world and then decide what you’re going to do about it. You also get to hang out with your friends; have coffee and cake, or go for a few drinks. Changing the world has a bang of worthiness off it, like it’s not meant to be enjoyable. It puts people off. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Make sure your group is fun as well. You might decide to organise a big fundraiser, or buddy-up to volunteer together, or everyone might want to do their own thing, but they have the support of the group, and they have to report back so there’s accountability.

This idea comes partly from Malcolm Gladwell’s essay Small Change, about the importance of strong-ties between people involved in social activism, but mostly it’s because I think communities are important. The way we live our lives now makes it difficult to be part of a community so we have to make our own. Real-life social interactions are important, sitting in a room together talking about everything and nothing is good for the soul. But it can be hard to organise time with friends and we end up relying too much on social media instead. Organising a regular meeting means you will see your friends more often. People already do this with book clubs or dining clubs, why not a change the world club? I also believe in collaboration, often the ideas that you come up with in a group are better than the ones you come up with on your own. In a group it’s easier to stay hopeful and not let yourself or others fall into despondency. Hope is important if you want to change the world.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (More glorious quotes here)

And because I love Charlie Brooker, here he is singing with the Blockheads. This video also lets you feel nostalgic for the things we were fearful of in 2014.

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Fun Palaces

Devoted and Disgruntled is an annual Open Space meeting for theatre artists, organised by Improbable in London. At a D&D meeting in January 2013, Stella Duffy raised the topic of doing something to mark Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014. That idea led to a session at the meeting, a few emails and tweets were sent out and it started to grow. It kept growing and growing to become Fun Palaces, a weekend of community based artistic endeavours, held in more than 130 locations all over the United Kingdom and in France, Iceland and Belgium. (How Did Fun Palaces Begin? blog post by Stella Duffy.)

Joan Littlewood, a theatre maker and director in the 1950s and 60s, is probably most well-known for the satirical musical O, What a Lovely War She was also part of an ensemble company, the Theatre Workshop which was a travelling troupe before taking up permanent residence at Stratford East. Their work was left-wing; one of their most famous productions was the British premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children in 1955 and they also championed the work of Brendan Behan. Littlewood was also fiercely interested in community theatre as well as political theatre and wanted to create a theatre of the people, bringing theatre to the streets. In 1961, Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price designed the Fun Palace – a ‘laboratory of fun’ but it never came into being.

FunPalaces

For 2014 the Fun Palaces had the tagline “Everyone an artist, Everyone a scientist.” The aim was to bring people from different disciplines together, but more importantly to bring the community into the work. Everyone is welcome, everything is free and a special effort is made to get children involved.

Technology played a big part in getting the 2014 Fun Palaces up and running, in a way that was not possible in 1961. Twitter, email and the internet allowed people to connect with each other, to feel like they were part of a larger community, to find help, advice and encouragement. Despite all the online communication, the work really happened in the individual communities where each Fun Palace was created. There were no boxes to tick or rules to follow so each palace could make whatever it wanted, based on their resources and what their community needed. This resulted in a diverse selection of events. On the website you can search for Fun Palaces under tags such as mermaids, tea, hat-making, dog-walking, robots and much more. I watched the whole thing unfold on Twitter and found it incredibly exciting. I’m sure those we attended or organised events had a fantastic time. It seems like another theme of the weekend was that anyone can make art – there were lots of free workshops and events – and that anyone can run an event, and anyone can change the world in some small way!

The Fun Palaces success story shows what can come from someone having a good idea, sharing it with someone else and allowing that idea growing into something real. I know that’s how everything happens but because I follow Stella Duffy on twitter, I got to see this idea grow in real time and not just see the end result. I also really like the combination between technology and global engagement and the work that was done in local communities. People engaged with the idea and took ownership of it. It would be great to see a Fun Palace in Dublin next year. It might also be a model to follow for the 1916 commemorations next year, a way to engage local communities around the country in building something meaningful in their own community.

“We’ll show politicians that culture is at the heart of the community” by Stella Duffy