Caring More About Caring Less

Bored Monkey

Are you worried? Losing sleep? Feeling stressed?

Are politics freaking you out? How about ISIS? The Zika virus? Personally, I worry about many great and important things. And stupid things. And, occasionally, crazy things. You?

We might just be wasting our time. Our energy. Our emotional health. Even our spiritual health.

I’m sure I’ll get some pushback here, but I am convinced that sometimes it would be in the best interest of our physical, spiritual and emotional health, and the people around, us to sometimes care less. Yes, I am endorsing “targeted apathy.”

You know the expression – “I couldn’t care less.”  (Which is the correct version of the common, “I could care less.”) Sometimes that is the right response.

Our society and technology is more interconnected than ever before, and it moves at a lightning speed. Back in the days of the pioneers, an earthquake could happen in India, and the saints in Utah might not hear about it for weeks or months – if ever. In our day, we watch live-streaming footage of the disaster, the grieving victims, and follow the impact for days and weeks afterwards. And we feel it. And we worry about it. We grieve. We are awash in sympathy and worry. We can learn about some new crisis, threat or tragedy every day of our lives by simple reading the news, or checking Twitter.

The problem is that worry is not always very productive, or earned. Too often we suffer about things that are entirely out of our control, or issues that we are not willing to engage. However, if you look deeply at those options, you can see how they can blur into one another.

Some examples:

• There is absolutely nothing I can do to affect the outcome of the primary elections in Indiana. Nothing – unless I am willing to volunteer to help a candidate, or pack up and head to Indiana and start knocking on doors, or donate money to whomever I want to win there. But I’m not doing any of those things. So how late will I stay up an watch the election returns come in? True, I need to be involved and concerned about our political system and how it impacts my life and culture, but do I need to let it give me ulcers?

• North Korea is messing around with nuclear weapons. Unless I am willing to try and change career tracks and get involved in geo-political relations, nothing I do will alter what it going on. I’m not planning on doing that, either.

• The bees that we discovered infesting our house this week might try and come back. I could lie awake at night listening for them.

• And the ridiculous: I have gotten stressed out about if “my” team will win a sporting event. A team that consists of players I have never met, playing some other team that I have never met in some far off city. Players that do not know I am alive. Yet I worry about them. But, even if I could, I’m probably not going to buy that team, or suit up and get on the court/field.

Some things that are happening right now in our lives and world are terrible, and we worry about them. Some things that are being hyped right now aren’t even real, and we worry about them, too. Simple truth: If the media and politicians can’t find something to scare us with, they will make something up. Ironically, the vast majority of things out there to worry about do not actually impact or involve me – but it feels like they do.

The basic point is that there are some things are completely outside of my circle of influence. Short of prayer, my impact is meaningless. Because of that, any time, energy and emotion that I spend on those issues is stealing time, energy and emotion from things that I can actually impact.

Here’s how Richard G. Scott said it, “Some people divert their best efforts from constructive accomplishment by investing them in mental anguish and continual worry.”

In a talk given at BYU, Elder Scott told about how his struggle with worries beyond his control were messing with his health:

“The Lord has taught me a great lesson about worry that I now share with you. After completing meaningful full-time missions, my lovely Jeanene and I were sealed in the temple. We began life together with every expectation of happiness. I was blessed through the kindness of the Lord to obtain a job in a new, highly developmental pioneer effort to place a nuclear power plant in a submarine. The work was fascinating, challenging, and absorbing. When combined with the natural growth experiences that come with the formation of a new family and Church assignments, I found each day filled to overflowing.

Within eight months I was being examined by a doctor to determine if I had ulcers. For weeks I returned home from work each night with a severe headache, and only after long, quiet periods of isolation could I calm my nerves sufficiently to sleep briefly and return to work the next day. I began to prayerfully consider my plight. All I wanted to do was to be a worthy husband and father and honorably carry out my Church and professional assignments. Yet my best efforts produced frustration, worry, and illness. In time the Lord led me to a solution. I was prompted to divide mentally—and physically, where possible—all of the challenges, tasks, and assignments given to me into two categories. All of the things for which I felt responsibility but for which I could do nothing to resolve I put in a basket called “worry.” Then all of those things for which I had some ability to control or resolve I put into a basket called “concern.” I realized I could not resolve those things in the worry basket, so I tried hard to forget them. Later in the process I learned that putting them into the worry basket didn’t mean they wouldn’t be taken care of. They were resolved by those who could best handle them—and most often that was the Lord Himself. The items in the concern basket were ordered in priority. I conscientiously tried to resolve them to the best of my ability. Although I could not always fulfill all of them on schedule or to the degree of competence I desired, I did my conscientious best.

As I was learning to control worry, occasionally I would feel my stomach muscles tighten and tension overcome me. I would cease whatever I was doing and, with earnest prayer for support, concentrate on relaxing and overcoming the barrier that worry produced in my life. I would mentally say, “I am not going to do another thing until I begin to control my emotions.” Over a period of time those efforts were blessed by the Lord. I came to understand how He is willing to fortify, guide, and direct every phase of life. The symptoms of illness passed, and I learned how to face tasks under pressure.” (Link. You might want to read the whole address, it is excellent.)

Sometimes, I think that worrying about things that are beyond my control somehow means that I am a more caring and sympathetic person. It makes me feel good about myself. Perhaps.

Sometimes, I think that worrying about things that are beyond my control is safer than worrying about things within my control – because I am not really accountable for any of those things. I can rant and rave about the cause du jour all I want and not be responsible for what happens.

Sometimes, I can do a token gesture and give myself props for doing something- even though what I did doesn’t really amount to anything. Today’s world, with the speed and reach of technology can also help create an illusion that we are actually doing something, when we are actually doing very little. It so much easier to post a link to a charity than to run one, or volunteer to help. It is much cheaper to post a meme about a crisis than it is to donate to it. I’m sure ISIS trembles anytime someone posts a “Defeat ISIS” meme on their Facebook wall. But hey, it makes us feel better…

Turning worry in to action is noble. And sadly, rare.

I know this is probably coming off as cynical, but it is not. It is meant to help. There are so many stresses and worries that demand our attention in our lives that are pressing and immediate that we do not have the mental, emotional or spiritual resources to freak out about things beyond our control.

Personal example: In 2004, there was a giant tsunami in Southeast Asia that killed almost a quarter-million people. When it happened, I was riveted to the screen. So many horrible images. For days and weeks tragic video was released, and I watched it all, feeling sick inside. I experienced the “mental anguish” referenced by Elder Scott.  Here’s the sad part. While I suffered and worried about the crisis, I did exactly nothing. I didn’t volunteer time. I didn’t donate money. I said a few prayers at the time, but the proportion of effort to emotional investment was dreadfully out of skew.

But to ignore tragedy and suffering seems almost inhuman and wrong. We need to be aware of what is going on in our world, and is afflicting our fellow men. It is part of being human. Of course we need to hold charity in our hearts, as well as mercy, pity and sometimes empathy.  However, when those feelings do not lead to anything productive, or get in the way of things we should be focused on, they become detrimental.

Life is difficult. If we fill our cart with “mental anguish and continual worry” we take away our strength to focus on the myriad tasks at hand. It can be paralyzing. Targeted apathy can free up strength and faith to move forward.

I think it takes some real honest self-assessment to figure out which things that stress us out deserve our attention, and which things are merely in our lives because we invited them in.

But this is not a carte blanche to embrace apathy.  Somethings we have an obligation to be concerned about. Especially spiritual things. Not long ago, Elder L. Tom Perry said (Quoting President David O McKay),

“The peril of this century is spiritual apathy. As the body requires sunlight, good food, proper exercise, and rest, so the spirit of man requires the sunlight of the holy Spirit; proper exercise of the spiritual functions; avoiding of evils that affect spiritual health, which are more ravaging in their effects than typhoid fever, pneumonia, or other diseases that attack the body.” (link)

Maybe the Zika virus isn’t our biggest concern.

One way to evaluate what we worry about is to try and determine if those worries interfere with our spirituality. Do they cause fear, and diminish faith? Because we can’t have both. Fear or faith – choose one.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

“My beloved brothers and sisters, fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.” President Thomas Monson (LInk)

“Any believing Latter-day Saint is an optimist about what lies ahead for him or her, however difficult the present may be.” President Henry B. Eyring. (link)

Care less – about the stuff we can’t change. (Targeted apathy)

Care more – about the stuff we can change. (Targeted faith)

 

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Comments

  1. An excellent article, and some wonderful comments.
    Elder Scott’s advice was spot-on.
    Elder Holland’s October 2013 talk “Like a Broken Vessel” is also worth mentioning …

  2. I would also add that it might behoove us to explore what is causing the stress. Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (aka FUD) are the low hanging fruit of marketers and new peddlers. We are naturally inclined to respond to those stimuli, so the easiest thing to peddle if you want reaction is FUD. Naturally, that is what we are most fed. Assess which sources are feeding you this diet and and then cut them out of your life. It could be the news, or TV in general, or your favorite talking head. You would be surprised at how connected you can remain despite cutting off these sources just through the grapevine and how much easier it is to focus on what is really important. The next step is substituting that FUD with Faith Charity and Service. LDS tools on my smart phone offers so much I can listen to on my commute (I love the blue tooth feature in my radio). It makes a huge difference in my day.

  3. Thanks. I needed this tonight.
    Sort of made me think of Elder Bednar’s quote from Elder Hales. “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.”

  4. Thank you so much for that post. We all need to realize what we can do and what we can’t that will or will not make a difference. The time is growing shorter and there is much to be done, but where does that leave our ancestors that are waiting for their ordinances to be done for them? That we can do something about! Or helping someone close at hand who needs some help, like your sister-in-law. As the last days troubles descend on the world, are we going to worry about those involved or are we going to get busy doing what we can to help those we actually can help – think refugees, neighbors, those around us. I needed this, as I am guilty of worrying about things in far-away places too – Thanks again

  5. Thank you for this excellent article and the link to Elder Scott’s BYU talk. I have physical health challenges which make it difficult to do all the things that I used to do, never mind all the things I would love to do. Every day is an exercise in just what you’ve described. This was just what I needed.

  6. I was 3000. Miles from my Sister-in-law who has health issues and a family who helps little… This always bothered me… I recently was laid off my job so took a job 7 hours away fro my sister-in-law and 2500 miles from my family… Just for two years….. Because I had to wait to receive some papers I could not start work right away… So I drove 7 hours… With a slightly used box spring and mattress from my storage space… And delivered to my sister-in-law who was in desperate need of a good bed… Upon arriving I realized she really needed her apartment re-organized and cleaned and unpacked to make her apartment a home… Something she has not had since her mom died a few years ago… It has been much long days and hard work… But although I was supposed to be here only 2 days… I refuse to leave until it Is done and she has a Home Sweet Home…Sometimes there are people in our lives that just need us… And need to know no matter how far away or that there may have been a divorce … There is no such thing as an EX Sister in law… They are still our family and deserved to have the continued care and love… I have so much enjoyed our time together and will be happy to leave her with her new Home Sweet Home. I thank God for showing me the path to the True Church of God. And am so blessed to be a Mormon… Thank you God for making the person I have become… AMEN

  7. Why can’t you DO SOMETHING? There are so many humanitarian agency’s that would love your time, money, or even word of mouth support. Don’t just sit around feeling the “worry” but instead act!

  8. Thanks for this post. I have a few pet issues but I have quit stressing over them (although my facebook friends may disagree). There are myriad items into which I could be sucked, but as I have found out, “I can’t do it all.” I am happy to have learned this and appreciate your confirming wisdom in this matter.

  9. I have found that it is alarmingly easy to get overwrought about matters over which my control is effectively zero. After coming uncomfortably close to creating unnecessary health issues for myself–both physical and mental–I tried to step back and analyze what was happening. My fevered mind was telling me that these causes were important and that concerned citizens of our country and of the Lord’s kingdom had a responsibility to be involved, to be a voice and an influence for good. This is true, but lacks nuance. The more balanced view also acknowledges that, beyond a well considered vote and an occasional (simple and limited) public comment, my personal responsibility does not include developing and implementing a complete Master Plan for the Last Days. And that’s when it hit me: trying to grapple with it ALL is my pride talking, not my good judgment.

    (And besides, the Master Plan for the Last Days has already been written!)

  10. Thank you, your message is absolutely something I needed to hear/read. I also appreciate the comments made. Thank you, thank you.

  11. While preparing my Gospel Doctrine lesson on King Benjamin’s address, I came across this:

    Elder Neal A. Maxwell pointed out that we have limited time and energy, so we must focus on that which is most important:“When we run faster than we are able, we get both inefficient and tired. …
    “I have on my office wall a wise and useful reminder by Anne Morrow Lindbergh concerning one of the realities of life. She wrote, ‘My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.’ That’s good counsel for us all, not as an excuse to forego duty, but as a sage point about pace and the need for quality in relationships” (Deposition of a Disciple [1976], 58).

    Not what I’d imagine on an Apostle’s office wall, but applicable in the caring where/when you can make a difference.

    1. Thanks for mentioning the LIndbergh quote. It played on a loop in my head as I walked through destitute African villages.

  12. I have been thinking about this exact thing. I know it is our responsibility to be informed but are we really with the current news establishment. Mark Twain said “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” I think sometimes this applies to the news as well. I know when I don’t read or listen the news everyday I feel the spirit more. Maybe its my imagination. I know I don’t need as much information as I get from the media though. Thanks for this post. I’m going to work on this.

  13. Clearly, you’ve described a spiritual path that brings strength and focus. I thought I was the only world crisis worrier. But then, I cringe about dust under the bed and fear the germs in the toilet bowl. I have found that if I clean off my desk, I have less to worry about in the late hours. Both prayer and a sparkling bathroom scrub put my on my knees.

  14. I believe your reasoning is sound and your advice good….thank you for the link to Elder Scott’s address. Amazing.

  15. My patriarchal blessing tells me to put aside worry. So I try to be aware of what may be coming down the pike, prepare for the worst (as much as possible), and expect the best. I send up lots of random prayers for people I don’t know. I do what I can locally. Watching my husband die has clarified and deepened my understanding of what I can and cannot control. And how I can be useful.

  16. Awesome post! Spot on! I have experienced this personally many times in my life. Most recently over the current election. I got so involved last go around and was so devastated when the results came in (my Father died that morning as well) that I was determined to not get that carried away again. I noticed I was getting sucked in again and had to remind myself that I only have one vote. I can post and share my opinions, get involved volunteering at the caucus, but ultimately I could pray and trust in God that He is the one in charge. I prayed and received my answer to not worry and I got a wonderful feeling of peace.
    I have had this happen several times in my life for various things that I was worried about and received that same beautiful, calming answer, “I speak peace to your mind concerning this.”
    For that I am grateful, for I know that the Prophets have testified that the world will get crazier and more and more difficult as disasters and life continues on. May God bless us all and bless America as I know He will if we will do our part by always remembering Him and keeping the commandments He has given us.

  17. Familiar with Carl Richards at Behavior Gap? He has a perfect piece of artwork that goes along with this… shows two circles that barely overlap. One circle says “Things that Matter” and the other circle says “Things I can Control”. He then has an arrow drawn to the part that overlaps with the comment “What I should focus on.” I have that hanging above my desk as a reminder that feeling great angst over what I have no control does not serve any purpose.

  18. This is an excellent assessment of what I’ve been feeling lately. I almost have zero control over who wins the presidency. Yet our news cycle tells us how much we should care which makes us spout off to our neighbors and Facebook friends about why they should care about something they have zero control over. But there’s a fine line between apathy and feeling divine inspiration to know what things to take action on to bring about righteous change.

    Honestly a whole book could be written on this topic!

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