Some thoughts on perspective and solidarity…
I’ve been on Facebook WAY too much in the last couple of months. It’s a self-perpetuating loop, where I post links mostly to whatever I’m reading, which is generally work-related, or just channeling whatever my little bubble is angry about. Today I was annoyed with the Scottish actress who wrote a stupid book about her gap-year in Zambia.
Once I post something, I feel compelled to check in and see if anyone’s commented or whatever – you know, curating my presence. Then I get sucked into whatever is trending. The last several weeks have been filled with gun violence, terrorist attacks, Brexit, and of course the presidential election, which permeates and distills all news. All of this contributes to an ice-cube in my stomach that never seems to go away. I’m already the insufferable humanitarian guy among my FB friends – always bringing attention to some new disaster. And I’m not the worst offender in my circle, either.
When there is a new attack, such as the Istanbul airport attack, or the car-bombing in Iraq, etc., I see new posts or comments to the effect of, “why isn’t there a FB photo filter for my profile photo for Turkey, so I could show my solidarity in the same way I did for France or Orlando?” The source of this is, of course, a sincere attempt to show solidarity with communities affected by violence.
At the risk of sounding like a cynical codgy old man – these acts of violence around the world are a drop in an ocean of misery – violence, disaster, and tragedy – that go on across the globe every single day.
I receive multiple daily alerts from ReliefWeb, these include situation reports, usually from UN agencies but also press releases related to specific ongoing and new emergencies and disaster responses around the world. Since I’m not working directly on humanitarian response any more I usually delete these messages – I know where to find them if I want to know more. But I choose to receive them because it gives me a sense of the industry and how the aid community is responding to various disasters, both man-made and natural.
A sampling of countries with reports in the last 2-3 days alone include: Ecuador (Earthquake), Palestine (consistent unrest), Burundi (unstable government), India (Floods), Central African Republic (civil strife), Iraq (complex emergency), Pakistan (floods), Ethiopia (drought), Tajikistan (Floods), South Sudan (civil war), Chad (Boko Haram, drought) – and that’s all just over the July 4 weekend.
In each of these countries, there are thousands and thousands of people being served by the humanitarian community. Each of these households served has either been displaced or had their livelihoods destroyed by a natural or man-made disaster. The man made disasters in almost all cases involve terrible atrocities – with regular peaceful people enduring the worst experiences imaginable. Seeing their neighbors killed. Losing children to starvation. Being homeless, stateless, without dignity or hope. This is and has been the status quo for the last several years, especially since the Syrian War escalated and ISIS metastasized across the world.
I believe we are all the same. Everywhere I’ve been – and I’ve been in over 35 countries across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East – people just want to live in peace with dignity. People just want to raise their families in a safe place and hope their kids have a better life than they did. People want to work and enjoy life, just like anyone else. Every human being matters.
When I see a photo of a child who lost her parents to Boko Haram in Niger, I think of my kids and how they would feel. Yes, when the Sandy Hook mass-murder happened, I was more affected, since I grew up in New Jersey in a similar kind of town, and the kids that were shot were the same grade as one of my daughters – so that naturally affects me more viscerally. If you have family or other roots in a disaster-affected community, it’s completely natural to want to show solidarity and work hard to help those in need. Solidarity can be a powerful catalyst for action.
However – there are a lot of people killed, through either mass murder, forced starvation, or other terrible tragedies every single day – that never make the news, barely even a wire-reported blip on the outskirts of the NY Times, let alone a banner headline on CNN. I’ve been so immersed in tragedies these last several years that you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t change my profile photo for France or Turkey or whatever. If I were being egalitarian about it my profile photo would be a constant kaleidoscope of various flags and community colors.
Better to work for a world where we help stop these tragedies from taking place and we can practice consistent solidarity with all people. Bring attention to injustice and suffering so that others will know it’s there, make sure you’re clear about why it’s going on and that you learn how to really help. Channel your outrage into making positive change.
I’ll just get back to Facebook now.