Feeling Good While Falling Short

Human beings tend to take responsibility for things outside our control. It goes way back. Early humans assumed natural calamities where somehow their fault, that they had offended the gods and were being punished. We still have that inclination we must counteract with reason. Children blame themselves when their parents’ divorce.

The most common source of stress is where needs and resources don’t match up. Where our resources are not adequate to deal with what we are facing. Sometimes that stress is self-induced because our perception is off. Either things aren’t as bad as we think (which the anxious mind can do), or our resources and abilities are more adequate than we think (which the depressed mind can do).

Today, around the world, stress is based on the reality of the situation more than not. Hospitals are understaffed, undersupplied and underfunded. Professional can’t meet the needs with their usual standards. People are dying that wouldn’t be otherwise. Individuals can’t make their rent obligations. People need more food than they can afford. All kinds of resources are inadequate to meet the demand.

And so, we help each other out. Some would argue that the problem is a matter of distribution. There is enough food in the world. There is enough money. Those things are just not in the hands of the people who currently need them the most. It is a justice issue.

That said, individuals are burning out because their resources, including time and energy, are not adequate to meet their responsibilities and needs. Of course, people need to do the best they can with the resources within their control. Beyond that, we must psychologically limit our sense of moral responsibility to what we and others realistically can do and feel good about that. Let’s not be hard on others because what they can do is not enough. Hospital workers, first responders and decision makers must care for themselves by going to bed feeling good about what they were able to do, not focused on how they fell short. People going to the food bank for the first time should feel good about how well they manage what they have and not shame themselves that it isn’t enough. When you manage your money well and still can’t pay the rent, don’t lose pride. This is what love of self looks like.

On the other side, let’s not fault people for what is not within their control. And let’s stop others when they do so. This is what love of neighbor looks like.