[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
"I cannot care about everything, all the time," is a sentence I actually said to someone the other day. He was standing outside a grocery store raising money for an organization that is fighting climate change. First of all, I'm a fundraiser and the curb appeal of someone raising money outside the local Ralph's is very low. A bit too akin to begging, and kind of distributive in an unwelcome way.
He said, "Ma'am can I talk to you a minute," and I said, "I'd rather not, thank you."
And his not very thoughtful response was, "Don't you care about our planet?"
That's when I said, "Of course. But I can't care about everything, all the time."
In that moment, I mostly cared about entering and exiting the grocery store as quickly as possible because I happen to loath grocery shopping. But that's not pertinent to the story. I ignored him and went on my merry way.
Here's the thing: not everything and everyone deserves your attention. In fact, I would argue that most don't.
As a half-hearted social experiment, I spent an entire day locked into the news cycle and here are a handful of headlines:
In addition to the never-ending news stream regarding Trump and COVID-19, we're also supposed to care about masks, the Keystone Pipeline, child allowances and poverty, buying a new car, the national anthem, new COVID variants, Brittney Spears, and Valentine's Day. Regardless of how you feel about "the media," it'd be a full time job to keep up with everything and give each issue an appropriate amount of attention. Most people are busy living their lives, working, studying, taking care of their families, and spinning the many plates associated with life. After we're done meeting our own needs and the needs of those we love, we have very little time or emotional energy to give to the guy standing outside the grocery store.
Most people have a couple causes they care about and focus their time and attention on those. Researchers have found five primary reasons someone gives to a charity: altruism (they believe in helping others), trust (of the organization they give to), social influences (a personal experience or knowing someone with a particular struggle or problem), taxes (self-explanatory), and egoism (wanting to look good to others).
Social factors accounted for a very large segment of charitable giving, which implies that people care about things that are personal to them. If you had breast cancer, you might care to raise awareness around breast cancer. I had an eating disorder for over a decade so mental health is important to me. We all live on this planet, so the Earth should (probably) be important to all of us.
But every cause, every publication, every social media app, and every news outlet is competing for your attention. The world is noisier than ever, and in an attempt to get people to care about things, we sensationalize the news, we build more addictive mobile applications, we (literally and metaphorically) yell louder and louder to grab snippets of attention. The only good side effect is that more people are connected than ever before. However, we're all grappling with who to pay attention to, who to believe, what to focus on, and what to block out. And although we all hold the entirety of human knowledge in the palms of our sad, sweaty hands most of us are too busy watching videos on TikTok to recognize the unprecedented nature of...TikTok.
This is becoming a bit soap-box-ish, so I'll just end with this. We all have limited time and attention, and it's up to us to decide how and where to allocate them. Don't let social media steal all your mental energy. Don't let the earnest yet irritating fundraiser in front of the grocery store ruin your day. And don't try to keep up with everything that's happening in the world. You literally can't. Care about the things that matter to you and don't be a shit person and things will (probably) be fine.