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Do the Dishes

| Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fall break is just that for most students — a break. It gives students some much-needed time to get away from roommates, classes and responsibility in general. For more than 250 Notre Dame students, however, fall break was not quite as restful and leisurely. After the night game against USC, we made our way across campus at 7 a.m. to load into minivans and depart for locations across the Appalachian region as a part of a Center for Social Concerns seminar.

Although everyone has their own unique takeaways from Appalachia, most people tend to encounter frustration at some point during the experience. Sometimes that frustration is a result of things not going as planned or conflict between group members, but often there is an overwhelming sense of frustration with feeling helpless.

Students wonder why no one seems to care about the many issues the people of Appalachia face on a daily basis. They get the chance to pause to consider the injustices of poverty, drug addiction, poor healthcare and the systems that enable this status quo to continue. There is obviously much that needs to be done, but it seems impossible to find where to start or to know which direction to take.

Towards the end of our immersion, as the inequalities and maltreatment we saw and heard about began to weigh on us more and more, we made one of our final stops in West Virginia at an organization that serves the local blind community. They provide career and vocational training, vision service referrals and rehabilitation.

There we met Tom, one of the employees who teaches computer classes to other blind people. He told us about how one night he went to bed and then woke up the next morning suddenly without sight. Without warning and through no fault of his own, Tom would never be able to see again.

Tom explained how he sometimes gets so frustrated with not being able to do seemingly simple tasks sighted people take for granted that he wishes he could punch a hole in the wall. For someone with such a calm and friendly demeanor, this was quite a statement.

He went on to tell us that when he starts to feel this way, he considers the fact that if he did punch the wall, he would have to fix it. So instead, Tom makes the conscious choice to do something small that he knows he can do, like the dishes. It may not solve everything and it won’t do anything to bring his sight back, but it is something helpful that he is confident in his ability to do.

As we consider the unfairness of life, it could do us some good to consider Tom’s message in light of the frustration we feel in our own lives. We are not all going to be able to rid the world of the injustices we see and experience, but we can start by doing small, good things we know ourselves to be capable of achieving.

Maybe we start by dealing with smaller frustrations, such as bad drivers or people who congregate inappropriately in busy areas. It is easy to let road rage and irritation get the best of us, but that ultimately solves nothing. We are all capable of smiling, however. While that might not do much to resolve the issue, at least we can prove to ourselves that we are capable of exercising muscles other than those in our middle fingers.

On a more serious note, perhaps one views the University’s parietals policy as unfair and a contributor to poor gender relations, unnecessarily reinforcing differences between sexes. This topic seems to be a source of increasing frustration on campus. It is not realistic to expect one student’s strong opinion to lead to the University’s reversal of the policy, but one can start by having intelligent, rational conversations with hall staff or administrators.

Social, economic and political injustices such as poverty and oppression are among the most profound and unfathomable frustrations we will encounter in our lives. When comparing our own relatively comfortable lives to those who struggle to feed their families or to feel free and safe from harm, it is obvious that life is not fair.

Instead of allowing ourselves to be consumed by anger when we consider these issues and metaphorically punch a hole in the wall, we can turn our efforts to small things that we know how to do. One person may not rid the world of evil overnight, but we do have the ability to vote. We have the capability of talking to one another and raising awareness of various topics. There are resources and opportunities everywhere for us to engage with those around us and turn our frustration into something productive.

Ultimately, life is always going to be frustrating and unfair, and we are powerless to resolve that completely. But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least do the dishes.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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