There are real problems in this world. In fact it’s sort of hard not to notice just how much trouble there is out there. And of course we all have our own problems, too. It can be overwhelming. We certainly don’t need to go out of our way to manufacture problems—turn our attention to made-up problems and fret about those. That would be ludicrous, no?

And yet, in a way, we do just that. We are captivated by reality TV, screaming pundits, and shock jocks. We watch with agony as a pan of cream boils over on a reality competition, shake our heads in despair as the meta-celebrity of the hour has an argument with her partner about what they should wear that evening, or nod our heads knowingly as a talking head recites his opinion about how awful an enormous percentage of our friends, neighbors, and countrymen are.

As if that weren’t enough, we also feel compelled to go hunting for other things to wring our hands over. The neighbor who’s spending too much money on vacations instead of saving for retirement. Those parents at the grocery store who aren’t buying the right food for their kids. Or how on earth we’ll ever be able to afford those granite countertops for our kitchen. We might even be compelled to justify these concerns. We just don’t want our neighbor to wind up in a dire situation. Obesity is a real problem in this country. We’ll be infinitely better people with granite countertops.

But it all comes down to these two things: knowing what is most important to you as a person and living by it. You need to ask yourself: Is this issue really that important to me? If so, why? How is it aligned with my beliefs and values? And finally, What am I going to do about it?

But it all comes down to these two things: knowing what is most important to you as a person and living by it.

Certainly there are far too many very serious problems that any one of us can actually take on ourselves, even when we are directly or just emotionally affected by them. And putting our heads in the sand claiming that we have too much to worry about already isn’t an enlightened response either. But we do need to come to terms with what is real, what is out of our control, and what is simply insignificant. Spending our time, money, and energy on the concerns of nitwits and blowhards is crude; judging others for how they live their lives is rude; and both are pointless. Does that mean you shouldn’t disagree with anyone. Hell no. As you well know, disagreeing with someone and judging them are two very different things. But if you do disagree with them, stop and ask yourself those four questions above.

Yes, we all need a silly distraction now and then, but don’t forget: you’re more than silly. You have things to do. You are here to do great things. When you have a visceral reaction to a problem, it’s happening for a reason. There comes a time when you must put silliness behind you. When you must see the problem as a challenge to be dealt with. Something you have the power to address. And when that time comes, you take action.

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