Inspired by reading about laptops abandoned in Malawi. (Follow that to the original blogpost; it's long, but worth reading.)
I've been struggling with this thought for years, and it's no longer hypothetical.
I simultaneously realize that people are trying and get frustrated that the trying isn't good enough to make a difference in a broken system. Or maybe I'm impatient; maybe the difference is a long, slow one that I'm not smart enough to see. And then... what am I doing? Why do I learn to make these things which should be useful but are in many cases just doomed to fail? Are the tiny successes really, really worth it, or just stuff we say to make ourselves feel better, or to pump more marketing through to get more funding to perpetuate ourselves not really making a difference?
Don't get me wrong; I believe in self-directed education, I believe in open source, I believe in appropriate technology, I believe people can do this, and that a tiny difference is a difference, and that it is worth it, and that I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing (which may not change the world in Grand Sweeping Ways, but I'm here to help, not to be recognized for helping) and that I've done what I should do; I don't regret working on anything I've worked on.
One way to phrase this disequilibrium (and it's a good one - it's an eustress that keeps me going) is that it's the weird difference between faith and knowing. I know that I'm where I should be - but I don't know. I feel the knowing sticking inside me, without words. That's supposed to make you at peace, or so I've heard. But my cerebral half won't shut up. It's not doubting, it's just... saying. It's pointing out, very calmly and with no hint of judgement, that I can't phrase this in words, I can't logically explain or prove the things I feel, I can only drift awkward poetry across it and italicize it and know. And this is odd, and slightly uncomfortable in a very detached way, because the world of concrete, provable rationality is the one I think I live in. I trust my intuition, and even when it works out, the scientist goes "but WHY did it work?" and tries to back-figure out the theory where maybe there isn't a theory at all.
It has to be okay for science not to work on everything. It has to be okay to make decisions based on that.
No matter how philosophical I sometimes get, there's still the real world, and the real world has laptops sitting in a closet in Malawi. Textbooks sitting in warehouses in the Philippines, undelivered and years out of date. Well-meaning projects creating dependencies and then abandoning the people they were trying to help. How do you react to that? How do you not react to that - how do you perceive it, accept it, let it be what it is? How do you understand that? How do you make peace with not understanding that? How do you ask - perhaps without asking - not what to do, but what to be?
I wonder if the Mystics felt a little bit like this when they wrote about God.