Not just made of rock, not just difficult to figure out, but honestly hard. It’s seen its fair share of tragedy. It has been embittered and fatigued by the endless bombardment of human suffering. It has been worn to its raw nerves by the constant barrage of the failures and inadequacies by organizations meant to stop the violence that plagues this planet. I guess I have heard things and seen things in the last two months that have left me a little hard, too. Giving up seems like the best option when the whole world is falling apart. It is so seductive to throw up one’s hands and abandon everything that stresses us out in favor of a life lived in blissful ignorance. We can easily step back from this huge hunk of rock and realize our happiness as human beings, never bothered by the inconvenience of unsavory experience. We gladly (on a daily basis) leave this space junk to its own devices.
But you know what? The world we know and need force ourselves to remember is made of so much more than geology and geographical features. It is made of flesh. Living, breathing flesh that begs for the opportunity to live a life like the one we all want. Unfortunately, most of the people with whom we coexist on this planet may never have the opportunity to live in the peace and freedom we take for granted every single day.
Now, my friend, before you go and think that I’m about to make some self-righteous case for American self-loathing, give me a shot. I’m actually doing nothing of the kind. I am asking you to think about your life. Although you are a wonderful creation in yourself, you are more than that. You are more than an important member of your family, of your neighborhood, of your hometown. You are more than an American, more than a Westerner. You are part of the only race on earth able to choose to live peacefully or go to war with your fellow members. You are part of the only group to have the ability to drastically change the circumstance of your neighbor, or to assist in efforts to marginalize and ignore the suffering of those who live in uncomfortable circumstances. You are human, and being so, you have immense power: Power to influence, yes, but we all know that life isn’t perfect and that bills take a place of higher priority than the ambiguous plight of a distant stranger. It’s understandable, and not wrong. I am not, however, speaking of the power of influence directly. I am speaking of the power to pay attention.
I can not tell you how many times in the past couple of months I have heard excuses by the United Nations, by American political leaders, by other International talking heads about their lack of involvement in the Tutsi Genocide, LRA War, and other conflicts. You would think that the general consensus would have something to do with resources or a desire to preserve troops. Those are there, yes, but the most common and by far the most frustrating excuse is the one which claims ignorance. Clinton’s visit to Rwanda after the genocide yielded one such excuse: “All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.” The evidence to refute this statement is overwhelming, and is not generally perceived here (by my observations) as an acceptable statement. It is unacceptable to me (and please keep in mind that I would head the list of people ignorant of global conflict and political turmoil) that this would even be a plausible explanation for allowing a million innocent people to be ruthlessly slaughtered. It is not the first time that the sheer volume of humanity’s ignorance has filled mass graves to overflowing, and it will not be the last, unless we do something about it. If the problem really is exacerbated by the fact that no one is aware of what is going on, we need to get informed. I know. I know the world is going to hell and that there’s too much to pay attention to. I know many people who don’t even watch the news because it’s so depressing. We’ve become hardened by the pain of an imperfect world. But let me make this plea: These people cannot afford our hardened hearts. Survivors of the Tutsi genocide, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide, and every other genocide that has happened in this world largely unnoticed need us to know, to pay attention. How can we claim never again to genocide when most of us have no idea that some of these conflicts even happened? Right this second, my current neighbors are engulfed in bitter struggles. The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sudan are both in the throws of some pretty heinous stuff. Guinea, a country in West Africa, is experiencing a serious internal displacement problem due to upcoming elections today, right this second, not 16 years ago. (Here’s the link if’n you happen to be curious: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/11/02/guinea.violence/index.html) Uganda itself has been involved in some anti-homosexual assaults and public humiliation as a result of its recently considered homosexual ban. (http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/11/02/uganda.gay.list/index.html) Please, please, don’t let these things happen unnoticed. This is the stuff of nightmares, folks, and we need to be aware. Don’t look at this as thousands are displaced, or the genocide killed a million people. Look at it as Aegis Trust (for prevention of crimes against humanity) illustrates in an awareness video: The genocide killed one person. A person with hopes and fears and people who loved them. Then it killed another. And another. One man was displaced in Guinea, one with opinions and ideas and ambitions and hope. Then another was displaced. And another. This happens to individuals, not statistics. Our hardness of heart serves no one, and the world cannot afford to turn a desensitized eye to the suffering of our sisters and brothers.
I leave you with a quote by Martin Niemoeller: First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me. I’m not asking you to uproot your life and move to a third world country. I’m asking you to remember that humans across the world are just as deserving of our attention as the celebrity you follow on Twitter or your favorite sports hero. I’ve said it early, I’ve said it often, and I believe it is very true: We are all in this together.