The attacks on Paris, the bombing in Beirut, and the earthquake in Japan that occurred this week on the tail end of a series of protests and heightened racial tensions in this country and on my campus led me to do a lot of thinking.
First I, like many people, wondered why these things happen, and happen so often? None of those hurt, killed, or threatened deserved the terrible things that happened to them. Why should they be forced to suffer? And doesn’t it seem like it’s happening more and more?
I kept thinking, and when I reflected on what I’ve learned in my own short experience of life and in my knowledge of history, I realized that these sort of events have always been happening. If it’s not a terrorist attack in a major city today, it’s the uncovering of an act of genocide or the rise of a dictator. Or it’s a landslide, a hurricane, a bank robbery or gang violence. It’s a child kidnapped the next town over or a death in the family. Terrible things have always happened to good people, and they will continue to happen. There is no reason for it, no way to know whether lightning will strike your house or your neighbor’s.
In my opinion, the question should not be why these things happen, but what we’re going to do about them.
It seems overwhelming. If disasters (both international and personal) are going to keep happening despite our efforts, why bother doing anything at all? Shouldn’t we just stay still and count our blessings?
I would argue that doing nothing can be as bad as causing harm (thanks to a very important conversation I had with my roommate on the topic). While change is difficult, it will certainly be impossible if we never try to cause it. When faced with a disaster, or a tragedy, or a systemic problem, we must act.
It may be as simple as bringing awareness. I will not shame people who stop at tweeting or changing a Facebook profile picture to show support of an issue. Hell, here I am just making a blog post about it, which is arguably not much better. But by choosing to make an issue a topic of a tweet or post and putting information out there, we start conversations that can lead to change. Someone with greater means to donate time or money to the cause may come across a post that directs them toward the issue. And with so many politicians, businesses, and media outlets keeping close tabs on social media, the more people post about a topic, the more aware those groups of power are in the public interest and more likely they are to take action to appease their audience.
However, such awareness must be fair, and it must not be the limit of our action. Many people have jumped on the news of the attack in France and brought it to the forefront, which will do wonders for relief efforts, but sudden disasters in those countries Americans tend to ignore and systemic problems that continue to operate unnoticed need attention too. Selective media attention makes this difficult, but when we do hear of trouble in Lebanon or other nations, we should treat it like we have treated France: with compassion, energy, and a willingness to help. And we must take further action where we can. That means donating to effective charities, giving time to aid those in our communities and abroad, and calling on our representatives to focus their attention on racism, poverty, and other issues that can benefit from legal action.
It can be really difficult to take those last steps I mentioned. We feel that we should save our money or that a donation lower than six digits won’t do a thing. We have enough of our own troubles to deal with and our government won’t listen.
I also feel overwhelmed when I think about how much pain and disaster there is in the world, and my near-uselessness in stopping it. I agree that it would be impossible to live a full, healthy life for myself if I took on responsibility for every bad thing that happened that I did nothing to stop. When we all take on that attitude, things continue as they are. But when we all seize the opportunity to do something good when we realize we can, we turn individual uselessness into collective success, we disperse the responsibility for everything and make it possible to bear. If all our efforts amount to saving just one person, that’s still one more person saved than if we did nothing.
The more I watch the news, the more I find I can’t sit still anymore. I won’t curl into a ball and wish it didn’t happen; I won’t pretend I didn’t see it. I will do something. If I’m the only one who will, that’s okay. But it will be better if I’m not alone.
Below are links to several charities that put their donations to good use. Please check them out now, or keep them in the back of your mind for the next time you feel fired up and want to make sure your aid is used responsibly:
Beyond Borders (Support for education, prevention of violence, and ending slavery in Haiti)
Global Health Volunteers(Sends medical personnel and aid to Latin America and the Caribbean)
UN Foundation (Advocate to the United Nations, connects people and campaigns to UN)
American Red Cross (Disaster relief)
Doctors Without Borders (Medical personnel and aid)
French Red Cross (Disaster relief)
http://irusa.org/donations/ (Helps disaster survivors)
Mercy Corps (Disaster relief)
Restaurants of Love (French charity, donates meals)