I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “issues” (poverty, corruption, war, death). But more than that, I’m also trying to keep in mind not just the issues themselves, but what to do about them.
Up until a few months ago, I figured that one person can’t really do a whole lot on a large scale. One person can’t end poverty, or war, but one person CAN do what they are able to given their situation. Which I think is really the best thing to do. I thought that was the nature of “service,” that it’s a way of doing what one can to make the world a little bit better. One person can’t end poverty, but they CAN volunteer and help out at a homeless shelter. It’s not a lot, but it’s as much as they are able to.
Then the whole Kony 2012 thing happened, and with it came a shitstorm of attention, most of it bad. At some point, criticism started extending beyond just the video, or even Invisible Children, soon it started focusing on college-aged Americans and how their efforts to “make a difference” are both selfish and insulting. That their motivations to help out were a way to either validate their privileged life, or a way of exerting their role as being “a good person” or “savior.” Granted, I do believe there are those who fit this role. There are people who buy expensive clothing and think they’ve done their due diligence by donating $5 to charity. There are those that spend 6 days a week drinking and one night a week volunteering and make that their justification for living a debaucherous lifestyle. Even at Creighton I think there’s a “yay service” aspect, where it seems doing volunteer work is either a way of fitting in, or a way of beefing up one’s Resume.
And of course, these kinds of criticisms and questions are the kind I’ve asked myself lately. How can I be sure I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons? Today as we drove by certain slums, I saw people that looked like they were barely surviving, manning a small shop that no one went into, probably never making much profit. And I felt sorry for them. Being in that situation, to me, is one that I feel is akin to being imprisoned inside one’s own economic circumstance and lack of opportunity. I thought to myself, I wish I could help them. I wish I could help them out of that situation.
The problem with that line of thinking however is that it assumes several things: It assumes that said people never had opportunity because they run a shop, which is social prejudice. It assumes that they are unhappy with their life, which is based on nothing but mere observation. It assumes that said person is lesser than me, and that it is my job to “help” them ascend to my position of life, which is fitting that “savior” role that said critics accuse people like me of doing.
At the same time, there are those who ARE in that situation. There are those that, due to where or how they were born, can’t break free of economic or social limitations. There are people who simply aren’t in a position they can break out of on their own, and those people, it seems, require help.
So then what is the answer? Should I go home and never do what little I can to make the world a better place? Do I ignore the critics and do my best to “help” people, which violates their dignity? Or do I continue doing what I feel is right and necessary, regardless of what someone else may have to say about it? What is the right thing to do?
I’m interested in answers, not just in asking questions. Hopefully I’ll find the answers soon.