How to Help

I know you want to help.

Donald Trump is terrifying, his administration (such as it is) seems hell bent on rendering Barack Obama’s America unrecognizable. Trump’s excoriation of the press, collusion with Russia, and unilateral rollback on the rights of immigrants, refugees, and LGBTs all have devastating implications not just within the United States but worldwide.

How do we stop him? No idea. There are great places to start, like Michael Moore’s 10 point plan, writing letters, making calls, showing up at meetings, going to marches, donating money. Keep doing all these things, but I’m going to add one more to your list:

Help at least one person.

I don’t mean theoretically help someone by donating money that could be funneled to an organization that provides support to x, y, and z (but that’s great, keep doing that too). I mean help your neighbour today. Tangibly help them. Carry in groceries for the old guy in your building. Shovel more driveways than your own. Volunteer. Overtip like a motherfucker. Babysit. Make yourself available, somehow, to someone who needs a hand, and come when you’re called.

Does this help those people in truly dire straits? Those detained at borders, or sitting in refugee camps, or desperate for access to prenatal care? No, and that sucks. But your tweet doesn’t help either. Nobody is going to give you a medal for feeling really badly about something. Your feelings don’t mean shit, don’t delude yourself.

Raising awareness counts for nothing if you’re doing it in a vacuum. I get on my high horse all the time, but only because part of me knows my Facebook friends and Twitter Followers will laud me for it. Also, platitudes don’t cost anything. That meme you reposted, while powerful, doesn’t change anyone’s reality in a significant way unless you have a social media reach of a million people (and even then…).

I say all of this not to be a condescending prick as much as to hold myself accountable. I get stuck in spirals of despair when the latest horrible news come down the pike. My guilt and privilege bubble up around me and if there’s one thing white people can’t stand, it is slight discomfort for any length of time. But we deserve to be confronted with this reality we enabled, especially if we are unwilling to help anyone in our own communities.

Also, “self-care” as it is currently being bandied about, needs to be reexamined. People need to unplug for periods of time, I get that because I do it too. But don’t be that person with your yoga mat slung over your shoulder screaming at the barista who fucked up your coffee. You might get your coffee right, but you’ve established a big, loud boundary between person served and servant. If you hurt someone to help yourself, that’s not self-care, that’s selfishness. Cut it out. The plane is going down and it is oxygen mask time, so do what you need to do to continue breathing and then help the person next to you.

To clarify: don’t stop doing what you’re already doing. Money talks, demonstrations work, petitions (occasionally) have an impact. But compassion doesn’t mean anything unless it is practiced. Help one person. Then help somebody else. Then another. There’s no quick fix to the mess we’re in, but if everybody who “wished they could help!” actually helped someone out, we’d be a lot better off.