If you were to gather up the day's news you would invariably come to the conclusion that the world needs saving, right? Well, I expect it will need saving tomorrow, too. And in the meantime, I am going to reflect on what it means to "do something" in the face of great suffering.

Yes, the reports from around the world are dire, but they reflect something else, too: The scale of suffering is balanced by resilience, courage, and hope.

I'm reminded of a recent article that described resilient people: they're distinguished by the fact that after a trauma, they don't just return to their point of departure. They cope and then get strength in the future from their success in the past.

Our resilience as individuals has created an extraordinarily resilient species. Without diminishing the tragedy in Haiti at all, we can predict that some people will come out of this trauma stronger for the experience.

And yet, that resilience looks like the sort of thing you'd expect from super heroes. Many of us have not even experienced that sort of trauma, much less overcome it to become stronger.

But we look at the headlines, feel our responsibility for making the world a better place, and then begin to think that we should be super heroes, that we have to be, because the suffering we see—whether in Haiti, or in our own home towns, or even in our best friends' relationships—calls out to us to alleviate it. And many of us serve others in our work: for us, that sense of responsibility can become a chronic, debilitating condition.

Of course, feeling this responsibility and acting on it every time is the fastest way to total collapse. So the next question is: Is constant striving necessary to save the world? Is it the best way to achieve our goals? Is it even the best way to do our jobs?

I sure hope not. In fact, I don't believe it. Would it take some serious rewiring for you to think of overwork as a form of violence? It took me a little while to look at it this way—as one of the most prevalent forms of violence in the world—but I think it's a good point and worthy of more reflection.

Thomas Merton was a 20th century American Catholic writer, a Trappist monk, a poet and a social activist. He promoted interfaith understanding and was one of the first Westerners to develop relationships with the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn.

He was a man who saw the suffering in the world—and had dedicated himself to addressing it—but he wrote "To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence."

He proposed that unless rest, wisdom, and delight are embedded in the problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is not likely to offer genuine relief. Born of desperation and exhaustion, it almost guarantees that an equally perplexing problem will emerge as soon as it is put into place.

Really, what good can come from the nonstop effort? When we are working constantly, eating poorly, sleeping little, stressing and worrying, we are little good to ourselves. In this condition, how can we possibly be of service to others?

I often fear that it may be too late; that there is much to do; that there is not enough time, money, or people to do it. But I also realize that this fear itself wears me down. I believe that the overwhelm, the overwork, the over-caring that we feel actually diminishes our ability to care, our willingness to help and our effectiveness in the long run.

I can't speak for others. I can only look at my own life and ask these questions. And so I do: Are my important relationships suffering? Am I frequently mentally fatigued and emotionally fragile? Am I experiencing an illness or pain in my body?

The answer to any one of these questions is too often yes. So I go back to Thomas Merton's proposal for undoing all of this harm: Commit to rest, wisdom and delight. Not as a means of avoiding our work in the world, but as a means of making us stronger for the work in front of us.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, wrote that we are at risk of losing the talent of appreciating ease. I think she's right. Italians actually have a name for this talent—dolce far niente (which translates to "the sweetness of doing nothing"). The fact that we don't even have an English equivalent for this lovely sentiment speaks to a certain malaise in our culture, don't you think?

So here's my prescription for ridding myself of the malaise and injecting some dolce far niente into my system:

Start small. Eat and drink well. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Smile and make eye contact with the people around you. Say you're sorry simply and without defensiveness. Be a good friend. Take walks and look up often. Laugh a lot. And then, once you're rested and ready to begin again, focus on the world—on the work—in front of you.

I'm always ready to take a dose of that medicine.

Author's Bio: 

Stacey Curnow works as a certified nurse-midwife in North Carolina, and over more than 15 years her career has taken her from western Indian reservations to a center-city Bronx hospital to the mountains of southwestern Mexico.
She has been an enthusiastic student of positive psychology for years and applies it to her midwifery and life coaching practices with great success. You can find out more about her services at www.midwifeforyourlife.com.
She is the creator of a thriving blog and many of her articles have been published in print magazines and online.
She lives in Asheville, NC with her husband, young son, and Ruby the wonder chicken.