I was talking to John the other day in my office. He was having anxiety attacks, mostly about money. He and his wife have four children. He knew exactly how much was in his bank account. He knew exactly what he would have to pay in five days when March began. He knew when his wife got her paycheck and how much overtime she had worked this month.
In addition John knew how well his kids were doing in school. He and his wife, Kathy, were very familiar with their teachers. He had even spoken to the principal once or twice. His three daughters were doing well, his son was charming. He was active with all the kids with their sports. He and his wife were friends with the parents of the other kids on the teams. They were all from the neighborhood.
Kathy was very friendly with four of the women on their street. They knew everyone's children and tried to share carpools and after school supervision. They also went out, either with or without their husbands, once or twice a month. It was a good neighborhood.
That really was a far as their time and energy carried them. John was an engineer and worked with lasers. He had a couple of friends from work. His wife worked in the office of a construction company. She got along with everyone, but didn't socialize with them except at company events.
They also had extended family they were close to. All of their parents were alive, although Kathy's were divorced. She was the only one of three children who kept in touch with her father, and he was not easy to get along with. John's brother had gotten hurt at work a few years ago. He was now living with their parents, so John was now visiting more often, but his brother's slow recovery bothered him.
If I had asked they probably could have named two or three of the nine city councilors. They knew who their Congress person was. They knew they would never vote for Donald Trump, or probably any of the Republicans, but that was more from their general outlook on life and less from any deep knowledge. John knew much more about the Red Sox than any politician.
They also had extended family they were close to. All of their parents were alive, although Kathy's were divorced. She was the only one of three children who kept in touch with her father, and he was not easy to get along with. John brother had gotten hurt at work a few years ago. He was now living with their parents, so John was now visiting more often, but his brother's slow recovery bothered him.
Life is full of many things like that. Most people have to take care of what is closest to them first and work their way out, in concentric circles, into the broader world. There are some people, mostly men, whose inner circle consists of just themselves. it allows them stop skip the next one or two circles and just focus on their work, or being a bigger force in the larger world. These types either have a strong family support system, that fills in all the gaps close to home, a lot of money that pays people to take care of those things, or they skip the family and community part and just take care of themselves.
What is happening in the world today, which causes lots of anxiety and stress, is that everyone, everywhere is more interconnected. That makes all the circles are much more porous. What happens in China can suddenly have an effect on John's work. The coal plant in Ohio blows carbon into the atmosphere and rides all the way to New England. The price of oil affects so many people in different ways. Fanatics in the Middle East still affect the price of oil. Shrimp from Thailand is cheaper that shrimp from Louisiana.
All this makes people more anxious because they know they don't have control of these things. No one does. No one really can.
So you go back and try to just focus on your family, and then your community, and you hope that doing good there will spread outward to the other circles. But now, with all of these constant sources of information, it becomes almost impossible to keep your head in the sand.
It forces people to pay attention. It should make them think, but many people are just too tired, or too scared to take the time to think it all through ....If I do A, then B happens, and if B, then I can do C or D, and what would be better for me? For my family? community? country? world?
We need to think it through. We need to talk to other people; people who think differently and find out why. Then decide. It's a very difficult task, but it pays off.