Small world for the small-minded


I was six years old the first time I ever heard the expression "It's a small world." It was at my school friend's birthday party and I, ever the eavesdropper, overheard one of the adults say it blithely upon realizing that they were friends with one of the other adults' long-distant relatives. I remember feeling perplexed at that statement; after all, the world I knew seemed big: there were so many people and countries, so many languages and cultures, so much history. I only knew a little bit of it. So, with all the wisdom of a six-year-old, I marched up to that adult in order to set her straight. "How can you say that?" I remember asking, or something along those words. "The world is actually very big. It's not small at all." I thought I knew so much, knowing so little of the world. The adult just laughed. "Oh, honey," she said, "the world gets smaller the more you grow. Just you wait."

I did wait. I waited and I waited and I waited. I'd stay up at night worrying about whatever problems I was aware of and thinking how great everything would be when the world would get small and no longer feel so overwhelming. And I found EVERYTHING overwhelming. Probably through no help of my eavesdropping tendency, I became known as the worrier of the family—and I got my first worry lines by age 11 to prove it. I worried about money (What if I ever needed braces? Could my parents afford it?); I worried about house fires (What if I fall asleep and the house catches fire and I can't rescue my family?); I worried that my brother would get run over by a car because he never looked both ways before crossing the road (Why can't Aaron be more careful, or just listen to me?); and I worried about all the terrible things that happened the world over, even though I knew so little of it then.

I did wait, but the world never got smaller for me. The more I knew, the bigger it got, until it became a terrible thing: climate change, racism, wars, and the selfishness of the delusional thoughts of self-preservation—and an unwillingness to make sacrifices for the betterment of the future—that fueled most of it. The more I knew, the more helpless I felt; there was just so much to do before the world could be fixed, and I was just one person.

These days, that creeping overwhelming hopelessness is a constant companion. I'm writing this on the day of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, mere days after bombs were sent to prominent Democrats in the States, not even a week after 25,000 people voted for a neo-Nazi mayoral candidate in my own country. I could go on listing the world's ills: one child dies every ten minutes in Yemen in the worst humanitarian crisis of our time; climate change threatens to reach a point of no return in 20 years; fascism and the alt-right are yet again on the rise; and on and on and on. It is hard not to stay up at night thinking about all this, dwelling on the fact that the world's pain is so big and I am so small, and no matter how much I try I will never be able to fix it. I'm just one person. And while I know they say that a lot of "just one" persons working to make change will eventually, all added up, do so, it seems we make so little progress.

The world is only small and simple for the small-minded. It is small because they make it so. It is small because they refuse to see beyond themselves and the people "like" them.

The world will always seem big to the worriers—the warriors, the carers of the world. We know just how big it is because we take the weight of the world and we set it on our shoulders. We know just how much pain there is and how much work it will take to fix it. And still we do not turn away. We trudge on, though the burden is overwhelming, looking beyond ourselves into a vast potential—a little bit of hope that good is bigger than evil, and that that good will win over the small-minded, hunched in selfish guarding over their small pitiful world.