In an often repeated story about the eloquently witty Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, he replied to a request to readers from The Times to answer the question, “What is wrong with the world today?” with this response: “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton”
I love that story. It hasn’t yet been authenticated, but it accurately reflected Chesterton’s humor, humility, and theological savvy.
What The Times was fishing for was the set of typical answers we usually get to that type of question. Our answers are all variations on “That guy over there is what’s wrong with the world today.”
That guy over there might be liberals or conservatives; the education system; socialism or lack of access to health care; politicians; atheists or religious people; consumers; environmentalists or polluters; terrorists; big business or big government; my next door neighbor; that lady on the committee; my boss; my teacher or those unruly students; the military industrial complex; globalism; patriotism or the lack of it; and so it goes.
Chesterton turns it all on its head. The problem isn’t out there. The problem is in here, in me.
This is good medicine for our preference for pointing out the sins of others instead of acknowledging our own.
The beauty of the comment is that the “I am” includes you as well as me, since each of us is our own “I am” in response to the question. But Chesterton achieves this self-reflection in each of us by refusing to point his finger at us, pointing at himself instead.
And one of the biggest problems in the world is our tendency to point out fingers at others instead of pointing it at ourselves. I know that I do it.
Recently, I’ve been unjustly accused of manipulating things to my advantage when actually doing the opposite. Fingers have been pointed at me and I’ve wanted to point right back. “The problem is them. Not me!”
Chesterton reminds me to pull back my pointing finger and look inward to ask, “Even though I may not be guilty as accused, where am I the problem in this situation?”
Obviously, I’m not the source of every problem in the world. That obviousness makes me want to start pointing out the problems around me again. But, again, Chesterton’s response is brilliant, because he recognizes that if he can take responsibility for whatever part small or large that he plays in each problem, he’s made a step toward rectifying it.
Perhaps the problem with me in a particular problem is my apathy. By being a part of the massive non-caring crowd, evils continue uncontested and good things fall flat.
Not voting. No speaking up in the face of lies and slander. Not lifting a hand to help my neighbor. Not praying. Not calling a lonely friend. Not using the gifts God has given me. You get the point. There’s a lot of good that apathy drains from the world and a lot of bad that apathy keeps us from resisting.
Me. I’m the problem.