A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Coping with the World’s Pain 3

Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.  ~ Albert Schweitzer

EVERY DAY, the suffering of so many is brought home to us through the TV, the Internet, and newspapers. The recent world catastrophes — earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, tsunamis, social and political unrest in the Middle East — on top of those that are ongoing (like Haiti) and wars (our own and others), seem overwhelming at times. What do you do with all that information, especially when added to the economic suffering, political extremism, and social unrest in your own country?

Most of us, no matter our circumstances, want to help those who are less fortunate. Yet, we may feel helpless to do anything meaningful. Or we may not know where to focus our time and money.

Personally, I struggle knowing how to respond to the world’s pain. I am neither affluent enough nor have the resources of time to help out in ways that seem meaningful. As a result, I experience a kind of survivor’s guilt that comes from living in relative prosperity and in relative safety when others are not. And sometimes, I am like a human ostrich, hiding my head in the proverbial sand, unrealistically hoping the problems will just go away. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

This week’s journal writing prompts help us explore our responses to others’ suffering and define our priorities:

  1. When you read the newspaper or watch the news and see other people suffering, how do you feel? Do you feel that you should help? Do you shut down a little? Do you vacillate between helping and hiding from bad news? Freewrite for ten minutes about the general topic of the world’s suffering and your feelings about it.
  2. Make a short list — no more than 10 — of the most recent tragedies of which you’re aware (try to include a balance of international and local items). For each tragedy write a few sentences about what appeals most to your sense of empathy and/or sympathy.
  3. Of all these humanitarian needs, which seem the most important, vital, or urgent to you, and why? Write about this topic, exploring what makes some kinds of suffering touch you more deeply than others. When you are ready, prioritize the above list in order of importance to you. (Remember, this is about your personal, not global, priorities.)
  4. Make a short list of the different ways you are able (or might be able) to assist with those situations. What resources are at your disposal? (Include everything you can think of, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.)
  5. Freewrite for ten minutes about the concept of helping others. What kinds of things do you do on a regular basis to help others? What do you feel that you “should” be doing that you’re not, if anything, and how do you feel about not doing it? Are you expecting too much or too little of yourself? Write honestly, yet make a point of not “beating up on” or judging yourself if you’re not doing all that you feel you could be doing.
  6. Freewrite for ten minutes in response to the following quote by Edward Everett Hale: “I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
  7. What is one thing that you know you can do — no matter how “small” — to make a positive difference in others’ lives? If that’s all you are able to do, write about how it is enough. If you know you could do more, what more could you do, and how will you take that step?


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3 thoughts on “A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Coping with the World’s Pain

  • Linda Sievers

    I love the Everett Hale quote. It pairs beautifuly with a quote that I found in Susan Wittig Albert’s lovely memoir “An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days. I was reading both the following quote and about the catastrophes in Japan at the same time.
    “Do not be daunted by
    the enormity of the
    world’s grief. Do justly,
    now. Love mercy now.
    Walk humbly, now. You
    are not obliged to
    complete the work, but
    neither are you free to
    abandon it.”
    – Talmud, Attributed

    It is many times hard to not lose faith in today’s world, but I find at this time in my life that writing down my feelings is helpful, especially when I feel powerfless next to the tragedies happening anywhere on our planet. None of us are immune to disasters.

    I like to write down my prayers, daily. Somehow for me, writing prayers several times, helps me imprint the sincerity of what I’m feeling and wanting to extend to people all across the world who are in turmoil, no matter what the cause or reason.

    Perhaps, when we who are not burdened by grief can “Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now,” then those attributes just might radiate their way into the world.

    I do not intend to trivialize the seriousness of our world state, nor to excuse inaction on my part, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has witnessed the positive results of mindful and attentive prayer and behavior. Perhaps life itself can be a continual prayer offering through everything we do, including the act of writing.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Linda, what a beautiful quote (thanks, Susan), and lovely sentiments. I do not think that living mindfully and prayerfully trivializes seriousness or suffering in any way. We each do what we can. Offering our lives, and our writing, as acts of prayer may be more powerful than we realize.