I Want to Fix the World, But I'm Just Me | TeenInk

I Want to Fix the World, But I'm Just Me

July 9, 2019
By icedmint SILVER, Seattle, Washington
icedmint SILVER, Seattle, Washington
8 articles 1 photo 3 comments

 Nothing makes a nice vacation better than being consumed with riddling guilt and powerlessness as you traipse along sandy shores of supposed paradise. But there was nothing else I could feel as I passed drifting water bottles, abandoned chip bags, and other carelessly thrown, stubborn trash. Every piece filled me with a pang of frustration and despair; the rapid degradation of Mother Earth was present before my very eyes, and what could I do about it? Sure, I picked up the occasional offender, but only with the defeated knowledge that in an hour more would replace it, and this trash was only the tip of an ever-increasing, mammoth sized iceberg. The wrappers and cartons were visible damage but thinking of all the invisible waste in our world made my head begin to spin. The boats on the beach, the taxi that drove me, the airplane that carried me, every piece of my journey probably killed ten more fish than the bottles on the beach. And that was only on this vacation. Thinking of the consumption in my daily life- ten-minute hot showers, cosmetic bottles, fashion and food choices I make regularly, sunk me into deeper melancholy.

But then, as my negative brain is so skilled at, I began to think beyond the environment, to all of the social problems our world faces. The local people on the tourist packed beach whose yearly wage was not even a quarter of what our family’s vacation cost. The hand-to-mouth desperation that most of the world lives in. The wars, injustice and pain that our most vulnerable people face. The fast-fashion industry, mass incarceration, police brutality, corruption, classism; my pessimism was having a field day.

But the icing on the cake really arrived when I evaluated my own efforts of goodwill in this world. After about five minutes of thinking, let’s just say it was a pretty short list. Required community service and sparse family contributions was all I could come up with, and of course that had to be offset by the many selfish, wasteful errs I make hourly. So here I was at the lowest of lows, losing hope not only in humanity, but in myself.

I tried to think of ways I could start to quickly patch up this world tearing apart at its seams. Join a hyper aggressive environmental agency. Give up deodorant and shampoo and live only off the fruits of the earth. Move to a small hut in Zimbabwe. Cure cancer. Invent a biodegradable plastic. All very achievable and realistic feats. Ah, but I how could I forget? Interrupting my brief spell of saintly concern, rushed in the worries of adolescent life. Fixing my acne, choosing my major, finding a job, whether or not to highlight my hair. How could I save the world when I couldn’t even make it through the day without at least five hormonal breakdowns?
            Alas, the world and I were slowly crumbling into a glob of helpless, irreparable gloom. I was left with few options: ignore the increasingly terrible state of earth and live an ignorant, unfulfilled, but maybe functional life, let the terror of it all consume and paralyze me until I was a vegetable of passivity, or become a self-righteous vegan who felt that they were the final hope for all humanity. It was a bleak array.
            In the middle of my brooding session to save the world, my slightly unreliable teenage brain finally had a semi rational thought. In a very Michael Jackson-esque manner, I started to think about the (wo)man in the mirror. This was all I had (granted in a very partial and incomplete way) power over. Rather than losing myself in the mess of the world, I had to use the mess of the world to find myself. The problems that I felt passionate about would shape me into the determined, capable, agent of change I was meant to be. By focusing on the personal actions I could take to make impact, gargantuan problems would become more bite-sized (though still mouthfuls).

Buying less and reusing more, donating to sound charities, and eventually finding a career that helps vulnerable and hurting people are all achievable and concrete ways to have impact. Even in my own interactions in life, leaning towards more patience and understanding, kindness instead of ignorance, and a genuine concern for others. At the end of the day I am flawed just like anyone else. But I am also aware of the world’s pain and long to dry its tears, just like anyone else. Yes, there will be days when I feel small in the glaring injustices surrounding us. Yes, there will be days when there are simply too many plastic bottles. But just as the largest beaches are made up of a thousand tiny grains of sand, so too good is made up of a thousand tiny tries.

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Here's how a relaxing vacation turned into a whirlwind of guilt, gloom and eventually inspiration. 

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