Why I Don’t Want to Save the World

The other day I was having dinner with some friends, and the conversation turned to the KONY 2012 video. You know the one, I am sure, if you haven’t been living under a rock.

I was quite moved by the video, although it did raise a few questions that prevented me from telling all my friends how great it was before I’d had a chance to delve behind the scenes. (Such as “Are we sure empowering the Ugandan government with more military might is a good idea?” And “I wonder what ramifications of  ‘getting  the bad guy’ we have to look forward to that nobody is talking about?”)

But still –  I was moved. This may be partly due to the fact that I am hopelessly unhip with regard to cynicism. It is very much in vogue these days to be cynical. After all, what thinking person, who keeps themselves informed and doesn’t stick their head in the sand, wouldn’t be? I get it that there is much to be cynical about, but it is a conscious choice on my part to fight against it. Cynical people aren’t effective people, and therefore they aren’t going to solve any of the world’s problems. Say what you will about the triteness of “Our thoughts create our reality”, but there is a fair amount of evidence that where we direct our minds determines how our neural pathways develop. (Google neuroplasticity). Therefore I choose to focus on the optimistic as best I can, because I want my brain to be primed to contribute, in whatever small way, to the world’s solutions.

Apparently this makes me a bit of a Pollyanna.

So naturally, my first pass through the KONY 2012 video was viewed through rose-colored glasses.

But during my dinner conversation with my friends, some of those questionable “behind the scenes” details I had been meaning to delve into began to surface.

It wasn’t the realization that Invisible Children (the organization that put out the video) is circulating outdated information (Kony hasn’t been seen in Uganda for about 5 years and is considered far less a threat by the Ugandan people than he once was), or that they are funded by some pretty right wing Christian organizations, or that a key founder of IC snapped and ran naked through the streets, that had the greatest impact on me, although these things did put a considerable tarnish on my warm fuzzy afterglow.

No, the thing that really surprised me in delving into the situation, and the greater dialog happening around the internet, was the notion that the privileged classes have a Savior Complex. There is a perception that far too often, Americans or Europeans want to rush in and play “The Great White Hero” so that they can pat themselves on the back and say “Aren’t I swell” over beers with their buddies. They do so often without a deeper understanding of  the underlying problems that caused the situation to begin with. And they don’t engage deeply enough with the people they are trying to help, which comes across as condescending. They assume that (in this case) Africa needs saving because they are incapable of solving their own problems.

But the thing is – people want to stand on their own. Sure they may welcome help, but as collaborators, not as the damsel-in-distress to some glory-seeking hero sweeping in on his white horse and turning everything into his chosen flavor of happily-ever-after.

I had never really thought about it like that before. I have always thought that people in privileged situations should help others, and that is as far as it went. It hadn’t occurred to me that that help may not always be welcomed. I was reminded of so many “magickal workings”, wherein a well-meaning but ultimately meddlesome magickal group sets out to heal someone unasked. If a person has not asked for healing, you don’t give it.

I do think it’s noble that the more privileged of the world help others. I would like to see us all giving each other a leg up as best we can, whenever we can. But care needs to be taken in how that help is offered. It needs to create a bridge of cooperation and not more disparity between “The Savior” and “The Saved”. Care needs to be taken to respect the people who are living with the situation day in and day out, and to work with them in a way that empowers rather than belittles.

And this sheds some new light on my own quest to “Save The World”. I want to make an impact. I want the world to be a better place for my having been here. And I struggle with that, because so far the life I have chosen has not left me with much time or money to spare for activism. And yet it does make me feel more alive than anything ever has, so I’d be loathe to give it up.  Therefore, I often feel conflicted about whether my choices have been selfish, and whether my path truly serves.

In light of mulling this over, it occurs to me that there is a certain amount of hubris in Wanting To Save The World.  I mean really…no one person can save the world anyway. Not even Richard Branson. Not even Bill Gates. Why do I want to Save The World? So I can feel all warm and fuzzy? Perhaps I don’t need to get all antsy about when my ship is going to come in so I can do Big Epic Things and feel all important.

Maybe Small Everyday Things are just fine. Maybe we can all Save The World together. None of us really doing the Saving, but rather each of us doing a little to make the world we touch a bit better. Which means, perhaps I can start easing up on my feeling that I need to be doing more to make the world awesome than I am already doing. Maybe it really is enough to be excellent in the ways that we are empowered to, and let the rest go. I may not be able to save children in Africa, but I can be kind to the folks I encounter on the street.  When we are all doing the work together, perhaps it is enough that we only affect our immediate sphere of influence.

No, I don’t want to Save The World. It is far too great a burden, and gets in the way of me writing fanciful folk tales and singing them to you. But I can fit  “Making The World a Little Bit Better Wherever I Go” into my busy schedule.

I think I’ll do just that. Because, after all, I am a bit of a Pollyanna.

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Ps – here are a bunch of links that my friend sent me, if you are interested in following the dialog that has sprung up around the internet regarding the KONY 2012 video. I found them interesting enough to write a blog post, apparently.

Links courtesy of Jonathan Korman, who can be found here: http://miniver.blogspot.com/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/mar/13/reality-check-kony-2012-reaction

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/should-i-donate-money-to-kony-2012-or-not

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/east/Northern-Ugandans-Critical-of-Kony-2012-Campaign-142923415.html

http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2012/03/11/invisible-children-funded-by-antigay-creationist-christian-right/

http://boingboing.net/2012/03/12/kony-2012-invisible-children.html

http://boingboing.net/2012/03/07/kony-2012-a-viral-mess.html#previouspost

6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Want to Save the World

  1. like the old saying, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself every day.

  2. Such considered thinking and honest sharing surely deserve a grand reply.

    I choose to simply say: I love that you look at things as you do, and ask meaningful questions about life. Keep the looking, the questioning and the sharing up, please.

  3. Your thoughts on the situation really mirror my own and you brought up some really great points. Most people see a cause and blindly jump behind it without really thinking about the underlying issues/cultures/attitudes that created it in the first place!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Well said. I’ve struggled with just such sentiments – i.e., are my choices/lifestyle unintentionally selfish? what more can I do? how on earth can anything I actually do make an impact? is it even my place to impact anything?

    A friend once took me by the shoulders as I worried over some now-forgotten “dilemma” and said, “The sky will not fall if you stop trying to hold it up.” And it hasn’t. In the end, as you so rightly say, we each can only do what we can. But to indulge in a bit of Pollyannaism with you – when everyone does what they can, just Imagine the possibilities!

  5. Sharon, I love your blog posts in general and this one especially. I like that you tell it like you see it, that you embrace your lack of cynicism, that you know your Life’s Work, and love it and see the value in it.
    It’s hard to hold onto the expectation of Good, rather than the expectation of Bullshit. I try to do that, too, and it’s an ongoing struggle. So thank you for writing this and helping me remember that I don’t need to fix everything and I don’t need to give up expecting the best of the World. Blessings~

  6. Hey y’all!

    Thanks for stopping by and participating in this conversation!

    Jenya – it is hard to keep faith. May we always help each other to do so!

    Rebecca – Thank you fro sharing your story. I too am excited about everyone doing a little, and how much more powerful that could be than a few people doing big things. The more I think bout it, the more I think it must be this way.

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