"Does it matter?"
It's a question I hear often. The topic of discussion widely varies, and the person I'm talking to could be a friend, a client, a co-worker, a student, anyone. The comment typically comes towards the end of the conversation, and many times ends the conversation.
I feel it as a self-defeating comment. It says, "I give up." What does it matter if I try? I can't do it anyway. It's equal to the dreaded, "whatever." There isn't a point here for me to do anything. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The individual is saying I don't believe what I do makes a difference, so I will do nothing. Then I witness the vast majority of them do the nothing the said they would do.
I hear it in our political conversations right now. "It doesn't matter if I vote. The process is rigged. I can't make a difference." I hear it with some of my colleagues. "They don't change. There are too many to help. There are too many forces against them. There's no hope." I hear it in those I work for in therapy. "I can't do it. It never changes. All of this is worthless. I'm wasting your time."
It's all heartbreaking and depressing, but the worst is when I hear it from the kids I work with everyday. They say it when we ask them to try to read, do math, or follow the rules. Again, the quotes are the same. "I can't. I'm not smart enough. It's too hard. I can't learn. I'm special ed. I have ADHD/Autism/ODD/Dyslexia." One of the first times these statements really struck me was while working at the alternative school. One of the students I had been working with for two years continued to struggle almost daily about achieving his behavior goals. We were talking for the umpteenth time about what he thought the challenges were to him doing better. His statement to me which I will never forget was, "It's too hard being good." At first, I thought he meant the rules were too challenging. What I realized later is he was telling me, "no matter what I do I keep screwing up. I keep getting in trouble no matter how hard I try." It was the "does it matter" comment.
I could do into detail about how I think the adults around him need to change to make this a better situation, but I want to focus on each of us as individuals making these statements. When we encounter these times, and we all do, it is easiest to take the path of our actions don't make a difference. I see an unending sea of people to help everyday. No matter how many improve there are still more to work with. There are more problems to solve. I ask myself, "does it matter."
It does matter. It matters to each person, to each situation, and to the larger community. We can't give in, and stop acting. We have to find a way to keep moving forward. There is a lot of literature about dealing with adversity, or (in positive terms) accomplishing our goals. What they all have in common (the ones worth taking serious) is the comment about perseverance. We have heard the stories of famous athletes, scientists, and entrepreneurs failing more than being successful. It's true. they kept trying when it was difficult. They believe what they did matter. I can hear some of you saying, "if I were Steve Jobs or Lebron James or Albert Einstein then it would matter. I'm not them, I can't influence as much as they do so what I do doesn't matter." Well, I disagree. What you do does make a difference.
I went to a community collaboration this week. The conversation was about helping teenagers avoid dropping out, or re-engaging school if they already had dropped out. There were school districts, community organizations, students, and parents all there. As the stories unfolded it would have been easy to say what I do doesn't matter. The kids I work with become these teenagers and then adults who end up as drop outs, incarcerated, on welfare, or worse. What does it matter? Then they showed a video of a young woman. She had dropped out. When she re-enrolled at age 18 she had a 1 year old. She was a single mother trying to finish high school. She told her story, talked about her dreams, but what struck me most were the pictures of her daughter. She is a beautiful two year old. The young woman said what was most important to her was to make her daughter proud. She said she was proud of herself, but it was more important her daughter be proud of her. It mattered what she did with herself to make her life better. I had to bite my lip very hard to not have tears come out.
It matters what you do in every circumstance. You are worthy. You are loved. You make a difference for someone, for yourself. Let's keep trying, together. The work we do to improve ourselves, and to help those around us will make a difference.