Every day on my way to work, I bike past an elementary school. When I’m running a bit late (which happens all too often), I bike past right before the bell rings. I hear laughing and yelling, the usual jovial sounds of youth and whatnot. I see kids running around, having fun, hitting each other with baseball bats with nails in them (it’s a tough hood). Basically, I see and hear the very definition of being carefree. I know this question has become cliché to the point that saying it is cliché is clichéd, but seriously – what happened to us? When did the world’s problems become our problems?

I can’t isolate when it was. Sometime in high school? Maybe sometime after, perhaps before. I don’t recall. At some point, the biggest problem in our lives went from eating sand, to what that cute girl thinks of us, to applying to university, to jobs, and finally to the spread of malaria in Africa. But hold on a minute – when we moved onto these big, wide-spreading, world-changing problems, did we even bother to solve the ones we had in the first place? Did we get the sand out of our teeth? Did we find out if she likes us? Did we make a final decision on whether that’s actually what we want a degree in? Did we get the cushy job we’d always dreamed of? I’m going to venture way out on a limb here and answer all of those at once: Nope. A full and resounding negative, captain. So why not? If we moved onto other tasks at work before finishing the previous ones, we’d soon be out of a job. That, or we’d be swamped with unfinished business that would weigh us down. So why do we think we can do it in our personal lives?

On a small scale, I see many people taking on the problems of friends and lovers as their own. Their friends are having a bad day, so they are too. Their friends are stressed, so they are too. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to care. That’s what friendship and love are about. But don’t ever, ever, ever take other people’s problems on without first solving your own. Taking on problems when you are not completely stable and secure in yourself is a bit like loading cargo onto a sinking ship. Sure, it’ll stay dry for a while, but when that ship finally sinks, it’s all going under. For those not so metaphorically inclined, think of the number of therapists that off themselves. It’s hard to take on other people’s problems if you’re not prepared for it. So, if not for yourself, do your friends a favour, and don’t support them with weak arms, bound to fail.

On a larger scale, I see this in entire societies. We donate money to charities to help with who knows what in who knows where. Are we blind to the problems we have right at home, or are we just stupid? Again, I’m not saying caring is bad. I’m just pointing out the irony in thinking the lives of those in another country or on another continent are miserable, when there are thousands right here who have also had their fair share of misfortune. Do I think that we are more important that people in other countries? Of course not. But again – how are you supposed to drive trucks across a bridge that’s only half built?

This may seem like a very selfish idea. Don’t be fooled – it is. It absolutely is. It is a selfish need to feel better about yourself, so you can feel more secure, so you can go about your life being much happier. But if anybody asks, just say you’re doing it to better help people. Just to seem like a bit less of a dick.