Focusing on what’s important

Is it reasonable to feel guilty for not focusing [enough] on using our time to make the world a better place?

In a world filled with social media, applications, entertainment, vices, and countless ways to squander time [in the eyes of some], it can be possible for individuals to feel guilty when considering they could prioritize their time addressing social ills such as homelessness, poverty, stigmatization of certain groups of people, etc.

Individuals’ time and resources can often be limited due to time spent working/making money, commuting, sleeping, exercising, doing errands, going to classes, caring for children, eating/preparing food, and other tasks. Even if utilizing good time management throughout the week, people may find little time to heed an inner moral yearning to ‘do more’ or ‘do something’ to address various social ills as they first — and perhaps rightly so — focus on their own interests. Many individuals of a low or middle socioeconomic status, it seems, have even fewer resources and time to spend focusing on societal ills whereas more affluent individuals need not worry [as much] about making ends meet.

Perhaps prioritizing one’s own interests in the present can allow for a future in which — when personal needs are comfortably met/sustained — one can spend more time focusing on social ills. A person who is living paycheck to paycheck, for instance, even when managing finances well, can’t reasonably be expected to donate a significant portion of income to a particular charity, but upon achieving a higher paying job and accumulating a substantial savings in years to come ‘doing more’ may be expected or at least more reasonable.

For the more affluent or people who can afford to donate time and money to charitable organizations, it can be reasonable for individuals to limit their charitable giving in the present in order to focus on investing money now and/or paying down debts like student loans in order to have more money at a future time.

Guilt, though, can be ever-present as a person who is contributing time and resources to combat social ills can still think that they aren’t ‘doing enough’ because so many problems exist within society. At some point, there has to be a sort of moral desensitization in which although we are aware of so much harm in the world we become numb to it realizing that it’s not possible to fix every problem. We also may lack expertise and resources to combat certain problems due to lack of experience, social contacts, training, money, and time. Even a superhero who can fly around the world in minutes can’t possibly help and save everyone…

Through managing our time well — finding some way to fulfill an inner moral yearning to ‘do something’ — and acting on what we rightly consider to be reasonable moral expectations, we can work to improve the quality of the world we live in although we can’t of course fix every problem. Yet we also should find time to allow for leisure, entertainment, and personal gratification lest we burnout and become ineffective in various dimensions of our lives.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.