I think we can all agree that the world is currently in the midst of a great deal of upheaval. There are few times when it does not seem as if the world is changing, of course (we can maybe assume there wasn’t too much societal shift in the pre-multi-cellular organism stage of the Earth for instance). Still, the intensity of societal change that took place while humanity figured out crop rotation agricultural systems compared with the amount of societal change in the last ten years (or ten days even) is not even close.

It can be challenging during this time of transition and uncertainty to feel safe, think clearly or keep up with political changes. To help, I sometimes try to rely on the things that don’t change, the things that make me feel safer: humanity’s penchant for helping.

There’s a quote from Mr. Rogers I’ve seen quite a bit recently that’s fairly in line with this thinking. It states, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

To illustrate this, while working and traveling abroad this summer, there were a handful of times when I didn’t feel completely comfortable. That just comes with the territory when your language skills are spotty and you constantly look like you’re wearing a hat that reads, “I’m very American and very gullible! Please confuse or rob me!” However, even when I was feeling nervous, I often found help from random people willing to step in.

One specific instance I can point to is when I used a week off work to visit Morocco. My travel partner and I had set up a tour of the palm groves on the outskirts of the city as a day trip. Unfortunately, we had some mixed messages with the tour guide and ended up in the wrong place with no quick way to contact him. I was left to frantically Google his contact information while taxi drivers came by repeatedly to ask us where we were going and if we needed a ride. This did not do wonders for my anxiety.

I was ready to give up or have a small panic attack on the street (both equally likely) when another man approached us to ask about giving us a taxi ride somewhere. I started waving him off, already telling him that we were just waiting on our ride when he asked for more details.

I was immediately distrustful, but when I gave a quick explanation of our situation, he waved over the other taxi drivers. He relayed the information about our issue, and they immediately started collaborating with me about how to figure this out together.

I was ridiculously touched and grateful. These men definitely had better things to do than help — including making a living — yet they were seriously involved in helping us, and we all celebrated when I got in touch with our guide.

In this instance, the stakes for not receiving help were relatively low. We would have missed our tour and I, incidentally, would not have experienced being thrown off a camel later that day. (Actually, maybe it would have been better if we didn’t receive help after all.) It would have been disappointing, but not harmful in a long-term or serious way.

I really can’t say the same for immigrants and other at-risk populations in the United States right now though.

There are serious, long-term repercussions on a personal and a societal level when families and individuals are being threatened with deportation, being barred from entry into the country or losing health care. Families are being indiscriminately kept from their homes and being denied access to doctors, which many would consider a human right.

With the scale of these issues, making a positive difference, even on an individual level, can seem too complicated to even attempt. To deal with these heightened challenges, people need legal help and financial security — things that many of us can’t offer.

With this in mind, it can be challenging to know how to be the helpers here. We have to work within our means, and sometimes when we can’t throw money at a problem to make them go away, donating time and attention might not feel like enough — it can be hard to see the payoff when it seems that nothing changes, especially when you’re challenging something on the institutional and societal level, like sexism or racism. It may not feel immediately rewarding, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

The payoff of these small actions is cumulative and can have a massive impact on the whole. Showing up to protest, finding contacts and resources to get involved with and reaching out to those who might need your help are all worthwhile, every time, even if you feel you have little to offer. Every bit counts, even if it’s as small as taking a break from your work to translate some contact information for some confused foreigners.

Sarah Leeson can be reached at sleeson@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.