Monday, March 26, 2012

We got a good thing going, or do we?

The buzzword 'Kony' provokes any number of impassioned replies, apathetic shrugs and mentions of the IC's co-founder Jason Russell's unfortunate PR nightmare. Badvocacy, awareness, over-simplification of complex world issues, the White-Man-Saves-the-Day narrative. It's hard enough trying to wrap my head around the little soap operas, telenovelas and daytime dramas of everyday 20-something life without delving into issues on development, aid, US foreign policy, colonialism/post-colonialism/neo-colonialism etc. Can't I just have my coffee and enjoy my little bubble in peace?

Whoever thought 'doing good' would be so hard? In light of all things Kony has brought to the fore, the issue of 'doing good' is at the forefront. It's difficult because at first glance it seems like a no brainer. You feel bad, so you want to do good, so you do good. Right? I thought for most of my life up until fairly recently that this was the natural formation of things. I watched a documentary about the famine in Africa in the late '90s (think Live Aid, Bono & Bob Gedolf singing for money and getting lots of it) and declared I would do something to help me sleep at night.

It did actually take me by surprise the idea that good intentions are not enough, that passion only gets you so far. Can't I just go to Africa and help? (scary, because that was my thought process as a teenager upon my imagined future as a free wheeling hippy/aid worker). A blogger and human rights lawyer who I've followed and admired for many years wrote about this paradigm of 'passion' outcompeting the value of skills and guided, informed, specific action. Then I got searching, I found out many reasons why Good Intentions are Not Enough. Good reasons why our modes of thinking about helping need to be, like everything, seriously considered with due diligence. This Doing Good is a Serious Business!

I am offering no solutions here, only talking aloud through the problems I have come across. I was and am still largely ignorant of the ways in which my privilege, status, education etc. relate to and often come at the expense of those whose names I do not know and whose faces I shall not meet. Those I have the lofty notion of helping are those who have voices of their own, struggles that are intertwined with my successes more than I know.

To know about the Global Food Crisis, poverty, the devastating effects of climate change, dictatorial or authoritarian regimes, human rights abuses  etc. is to know also about the ways in which these came about. We need to know, in short, the role our democratic capitalist nations and the like have played a part in facilitating or fostering this. We are not blameless, there is no innocent, unattached, uninvolved saviour to the world's problems.

Growing up I thought poverty was an isolated issue far away from my second story home in the suburbs of Sydney. It didn't have anything to do with me except to offer me a part in feeling good about ending it. The thing is, I'm only starting to understand how interrelated our stories are. Those who I hear about on the news and those who appear on our 'World News' covers.

Our emotions, our indignation, our empathy, our motives are all incredibly powerful - they are only effective when coupled with the less glamorous notion of critical thinking, education, skills and informed decision making. Hope makes all things glow, makes all things possible but we need to be able to see the grey areas where our governments and even ourselves have played a part in constructing or at least allowing these many inequalities, everyday poverties and black holes for our good intentions.

"His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated 'disasters.' All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need."

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