Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Do We Have a Global Responsibility?

As a very passionate activist, I often find myself having conversations with people about why I feel the need to, say, help women in Africa who are subjected to FGM, when I live and work in America. It's not my problem, they usually say. Not my responsibility. Can't I at least stick to my own country? We've got a war going on, the economy to worry about, all sorts of problems. Don't I have better things to worry about?

People insist that I should mind my own business and keep to myself.

I just can't do that. Here's why...

For starters, the world is not as disconnected as we think. A recent study suggests that the six degrees of separation theory was pretty dead on. Even more than that, for all of our differences, people around the world are just like us. They have families to love, jobs to keep, and rights being violated. If I can help them just the teeny, tiniest bit by taking action and urging others to take action too, why shouldn't I?!

Also, helping with one cause doesn't stop me from helping with another. I can donate a suit that'll never fit me to a woman who really needs it AND cast a vote on Election Day.

So, DO we have a global responsibility? Do we even have a local responsibility? I agree with JK Rowling on this one: we have imaginations so we can empathize with people all around the world in situations we will never face. I think our responsibility is to act on that empathy if we really feel it. So long as you are communicating with the people we want to help, rather than giving them the help we think they might want.

In the end, I think it is a personal choice. If you can barely make ends meet for yourself, I don't expect you to donate to someone living halfway around the world. And if you have more than you need, but don't want to give for whatever reason, I won't make you. Just don't try to stop me from doing it, because I won't.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we have a global responsibility? Or should we clean up our own house before trying to bust into others?

(A longer version of this was originally posted at The Feminist Underground.)


Kekla Magoon said...

I think we have a responsibility to look at issues both globally and locally and seek to understand them--but where we choose to give our time and resources is purely a personal decision.

For example, I believe a person can be aware of and care about FGM, but choose instead to spend her time mentoring an innercity kid. Or be aware of poverty in the USA, but instead support efforts to lower HIV infection rates in Africa. I don't think either of those people are doing anything wrong.

To me, the fault comes when you either think America is flawless, and wish to "help" the world by making other places more like us, or think the rest of the world doesn't matter because we have enough to deal with (good or bad) here at home. I'm bothered by the myopic attitude that a lot of Americans have, which is what leads the world to see us as arrogant and self-centered.

sally said...

Kekla, you're definitely right that the "help" is sometimes no help at all, but rather imposing the values one group thinks are correct on another group.

I stress that there needs to be a better focus on working with people rather than for people.

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