September 5, 2015

Are Images of Suffering Children Breaking Your Heart too? What We Can Do to Help.

"Syrian Refugee," Bengin Ahmad, Flickr

It can be tough to feel.

It can be really tough to feel so strongly about the global sadness in the world and at the same time and also feel powerless to affect change.

In some ways I have been shocked that my Facebook feed is not packed full of images of refugee migrants and suffering children. How can we talk about what we had for dinner and where we are going on the weekend when people are suffering so badly right now?

However, it is easy to jump to blame, shame and criticism. It is easy to judge people as shallow for going on with their lives when there is so much suffering in the world.

It is easy to judge ourselves and feel like we aren’t doing enough.

For myself it is hard to find a place of just feeling the suffering without becoming cynical, jumping to conclusions or feeling useless. I bounce around between these feelings and find myself unwilling to settle on vulnerable pain.

I find the images of children drowned at sea almost too much for my simple heart to bear.

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand and pretend suffering doesn’t exist but I also don’t want to become paralyzed with grief and despair and a feeling of being too inadequate to contribute.

We each need to find a balance of staying informed about global strife but also not slipping into a type of negative cynicism about world affairs.

Here are three ideas about how to move forward when our hearts says we care about world suffering and want to help but our mind wonder how little old me will ever be able to make an impact.

#1. Get informed.

This comic strip helps us understand the root causes of the present unrest and war in Syria.

By understanding where conflict stems from we can better look at our own lives and how we can contribute. This is the embodiment of “Think Global, Act Local.”

If we care about human suffering then we can’t wait any longer to act on Climate Change. There was a time when we called Climate Change global warming but anyone who is paying any attention to what is going on in the world these days knows it is really global weirding.

Everything to do with climate is now unpredictable.

This is the new reality.

We need to put reducing carbon emissions first when considering all of our activities. The food we buy, the recreational activities we choose, how we travel, how we vote. Carbon emissions need to be front and center on all of our minds in everything we do..

Want to help children all around the world? Reduce carbon emissions. Period.

#2. Get involved with grassroots efforts.

This video about a family who is saving the lives of  thousands of migrants blew my mind.

It shows there are people out there who care just like us. We each need to find our tribe and get involved.

Sometimes we can go and physically help and sometimes we can send money and sometimes we can just promote great efforts on our social media and to our friends. Sometimes all we can do is sign petitions. That is okay We just need to keep trying.

Keep getting involved in some way and believing change is possible.

This is the only way forward.

#3. Keep doing our own good work.

I know doing our yoga practice, meditating and clearing out our own negative thoughts can seem so superficial in the face of war and extreme suffering that is happening globally.

But Pema Chodron so wisely reminds us, ““War and peace start in the human heart. Whether that heart is open or whether that heart is closed has global implications.”

And Sakyong Mipham points out, “Self-reflection is how we can transform society. Transforming society happens one person at a time, by our willingness to be kind to ourselves, and our willingness to be kind to one another.”

So, if we really want to bring more peace into the world then we really do need to bring more peace into ourselves. This is how we develop empathy.

It is only by developing empathy in ourselves that we can share it with others.

Life is a balancing act of the personal, the political and the global. Each of us is responsible to carry the weight of our own challenges and the common good.

This is what makes us human.

I know we are up to the challenge.


If you would like to help, please consider donating to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station.




Relephant read: 

Interdependence & Immigration: Drawing on Buddhist Principles could Save Migrant Lives.

The Lesvos Refugee Crisis: 5 Months in & Conditions are Worsening.

I Am a Migrant & they are, too—but we’re different. {Video}



Author: Ruth Lera

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: benginahmad at Flickr


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