I can’t do this, but I can do that

I can’t do everything, but I can do one thing. I can’t solve a humanitarian problem, but perhaps I can solve one person’s problem.

I am reflecting this week on the ways in which huge issues can reduce me to inertia. The problems seem too big, too global, too significant for ordinary people to be able to change. Climate change needs governments to take decisive action. Historical injustices need recognition and apologies from the powerful. The homeless need changes in the affordability of housing, worldwide.

All of that is true, but that does not absolve me of involvement. That is what became clearer to me this week. If I focus on the big issue, I feel powerless, but if I focus on individuals, I feel empowered to make a small change.

This train of thoughts began with a conversation about hats. A fellow hiker on one of my Monday morning hikes asked about the hat I was wearing. I explained that I had made it myself and went to say that I had been inspired by my daughter-in-law. She works for an organization that provides services and connections to housing for the homeless. I can’t do what she does, but I can make hats. So, for many years now, I have been crocheting hats for the homeless. I can’t solve all their problems, but I can make a few heads warm.

Then, a few days ago, I was re-awakened to an awareness of the effects of colonialism. After I had recently volunteered to be an English tutor, I attended a workshop provided by someone who leads a program for indigenous students. I was born in the UK and, being of a certain age, I had grown up seeing world maps on the walls of my classrooms with some nations identified in pink. The pink countries were British colonies and, I was led to believe, this was a glorious thing.

It wasn’t until I immigrated to Canada in 1975 that I began to realize the extent to which I had been misled. Colonialism has caused great harm in many ways, not least of which has been the attempted genocide and/or cultural indoctrination of indigenous peoples, and it was not glorious at all.

The workshop for tutors was both understated and powerful. I came away being more aware of my accent and more conflicted in my motivations. Ultimately, though, I decided that I could not solve all the problems of colonialism, but I could tutor students in English if they could overlook my origins.

This week I also completed a four-week course in the future of Pacific Salmon. I am not a fisher and I know nothing about salmon, but I wanted to understand better my new environment. The course was fascinating and instructor engaging, and so I learned a lot. Not least of which is the understanding that climate change is affecting the temperature of the oceans and hence the availability of food for fish. As a consequence, the fish are moving to cooler climes. That is a terrible abbreviation of a complex issue, but I am editing for clarity here.

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) from the Northern Pacific Ocean. More: Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

The bottom line is that, even though I have always reduced, reused, and recycled, now I am doing more. I can’t fix climate change, but I can use less plastic by using laundry strips instead of big jugs of liquid detergent. I can recycle soft plastics. I can reduce my contribution to the landfill by composting kitchen scraps.

The bigger issues of climate, colonialism, and homelessness are too big for me. But individual, local actions are within reach, and so I will do what little I can and hope it helps.


  1. I am sad that you feel you must apologize for where you were born and raised. It does not reflect on the person you are. (sorry about the sentence structure). Which is caring and loving and overall wonderful.
    Very happy you enjoyed the salmon classes.

    • I don’t feel as though I must apologize for where I was born and raised, but I do feel that apologies are in order for the effects of colonialism. The negative impact is still being felt through the generations of indigenous peoples in Canada.

      Thank you for the kind words about me. And, yes, I really did enjoy the salmon classes!

    • I had a similar reaction to Lynn’s when you say, “If they could overlook my origins”…As if you have to answer for the country you were born and raised in. It’s too much weight to consider or carry, and that speaks for most of us and the countries we come from. You, our darling Aunt, are freaking awesome and should stand tall, shoulders back, and shout out to the world. “I am making a difference in the world in a good way, and it’s enough. PS…I am freaking awesome”.

      • Thank you, Sally. You are very kind.

        I still have an English accent which is met with hesitance sometimes, and that has made me aware that, historically, the English have not always been welcome. But, I take your point. I cannot carry all those burdens, and I will continue to do what I can.

  2. I started recycling plastics a year ago. I wanted to show my Grandchildren the impact it has on the environment. I am not sure if they were even really interested. My 2 that live with me are we recycle plastics, and cardboard. We drink bottled water and I couldn’t believe how much we go through so I am going to invest in a water dispenser that holds the refillable 5 gallons.

    • Good for you, Susan! Those children will grow up with those habits and keep them.

      Each region has different recycling capabilities, and I am finding that Nanaimo is able to recycle more things than Edmonton did when I lived there. I put only a small bag into the weekly trash now.

  3. I like your perspective. The needs and issues can get overwhelming; but doing something towards a solution is doable. Thanks for sharing!

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