what to do when you feel powerless to change

I recently started reading The Grip of Death by Michael Rowbotham, which discusses (among other things) how 97% of all money in circulation in the UK was, and is, pulled out of thin air by private corporations every time someone takes out a loan. Now, if I -- as an individual -- were to create new money, I would be arrested and thrown in jail. Banks, on the other hand, are not only allowed to do this, but they actually demand this money back, at interest, and threaten to steal your home and belongings if you don't make the repayments.

I tried to read the book from a purely academic point of view, but I began to find it difficult to remain emotionally removed. This happens to me on many issues. The cycle goes something like this:

  Feelings of injustice --> Anger, the need to rise up, join a group, make a change --> Realising the problem goes way, way too deep --> Overwhelming feeling of powerlessness --> Huge negativity about the state of the world.

It happened when I went to the Sony World Photography Awards and saw photos about acid attacks in Iran, female genital mutilation, traffiking, etc. It happened when I learnt just how much eating animals affects the environment and the planet. In short, I let issues affect me. (It's one of the reasons why I don't read the news.)

So I asked some people who are smarter than me about what they do when they feel powerless about the state of the world:

I have found that when something pierces my heart it helps if I do a little something, even if it feels microscopic. For example, if here is a natural disaster I can donate a bit of money to help with relief or if it's something environmental I can assess my personal footprint and decide if there is something I'd like to change. Then when the feeling that I am not doing anything significant comes up, I can remind myself of these things.  - Brandice Lardner.
The way I deal with it is to be satisfied internally with myself. I try to treat people well. I think there are quite a few good people in the world, but helping an old lady cross the road does not make world headlines. So just be nice and hope in 5,000 years time most others will be nice too.... The only problem would be that reading the news might not be so exciting. - My dad.

I also found this helpful quote on Refine The Mind:

Perhaps the most important thing I remembered is that I am just one human with my own issues and shortcomings. It is not within my power to solve all of the world’s problems, and that’s okay. It is a fallacy to impose inadequacy onto natural boundaries that we do not choose for ourselves. I needed to recognize my limitations, but also appreciate what I can and do contribute. I write, teach, create, donate, get better at recycling, try to be kind.

When caught up in the bad, it is somehow easy to forget all of the great things humans have achieved. And yes, there are many barriers things that, for example, fixing the economy could help speed up but we were born into a system, and yes I think it is our duty to question it, but we must also try to make the best of it. Change doesn't happen overnight, and nor does it happen when humans work purely as individuals. No single person achieved anything completely unaided. We absolutely must work together to elicit big change.

Having said that, we can also make a difference, right now, as individuals. Day by day, we can be kind to each other. This adds up to something huge, as a collective of people; I have yet to come across a situation where acting compassionately was the wrong thing to do.

There will be some people who can dedicate their lives to a cause, and that is great. For the rest of us, we can set an example by acting with kindness, where possible. We can donate or volunteer to a cause, we can mention the issue to a few people in general conversation (without shoving it down their throats). The human race will always have problems, and it is not feasible, nor sensible to dedicate every waking moment thinking about all of them. But if you talk to one person, that's one more person on this planet who is aware of the issue. Education is power; new ideas spread and inspire. Then together, little by little, we can elicit change.