I’m not going to waste a lot of exposition here. You’ve heard about Joseph Kony now. You’ve seen the video (or, you know, the first ten minutes, then skipped to the end) and posted it to your Facebook wall.
And then, a day after you mustered up the courage and integrity to do what everyone else did, you started hearing the negative feedback loop:
Now you don’t know what to think. You tried to do a good thing, you might have even given some money, and after all that hard work, you feel your faith in something you hadn’t heard of 48 hours ago may be shaken to its core.
Well, I’m not here to restore that faith or to tell you, “As long as your heart is open to those in need, that’s enough.”
Because it’s not enough. Your heart should always work in concert with your brain. Do some research, get to know the history and then figure out how to help (even if it is just giving money).
The situation in Uganda and other African nations is tragic, but it’s also complex and it’s not going to be resolved by trending #JosephKony on Twitter. Yeah, I know, the Arab Spring was a digital revolution. The world can be changed by people on Facebook and Twitter. Except, those people weren’t just on Facebook and Twitter. They got off their asses and many risked their lives. Social Media is a tool, but it isn’t the tool.
I’ve written about this problem before, which I call “Entitled Salvation,” or believing that merely acknowledging a problem will fix it because, hey, the world owes me happiness. I want to share the salient points from a post I wrote over a year ago in response to the “Change your FB picture to a Cartoon Character” movement of 2010.
(You’ll note the sarcasm right upfront.)
This weekend, Facebook users raised awareness about child abuse. Next weekend, it’ll be about breast cancer. After that, AIDS. Or autism or Darfur.
All worthy causes, to be sure.
But people know these problems exist. Their ‘awareness’ of them isn’t the issue. It’s their complete unwillingness to get off their asses and do something productive that is the problem. By telling people that doing nothing (and changing your profile picture [or posting a video] is pretty much the dictionary definition of doing nothing) is accomplishing some small victory, you’re reinforcing an attitude that great strides can be made by doing very little (or nothing at all).
At the same time, you’re also just piling on a list of capital ‘I’ Issues that you expect people to care about. We should all be concerned about the myriad of horrendous problems that affect our nation and our world. And when another earthquake decimates a third world country, we should care about that. But, in reality, each individual has only a finite amount of resources (time and money) to devote to any number of causes. The awareness raising technique is a way of alleviating guilt by telling people they can address every issue simply by acknowledging they exist.
Instead, people should focus on the one or two issues they can truly invest in and encourage others to find their own worthy causes. This is not to say that people should have tunnel vision and ignore other problems (especially because different world problems tend to arise out of similar root causes), but we also shouldn’t reward inaction by giving everyone a blue ribbon for showing up.
If you want to cure AIDS, it’s better to have 100 active, committed people than 100 million ‘aware’ do-nothings. Granted, if we could turn those 100 million people into activists, that would be a great accomplishment, but saying the bare minimum is all that’s required of them is not going to light a fire under anyone.
As a culture, we are breeding something I call, “Entitled Salvation.” Specifically, this means that people believe they deserve to be rescued from the absolute chaos and cruel indifference that rules the universe. We acknowledge that the world can be a shitty place, but we don’t think that it should be a shitty place for us.
Now, someone might argue, “But people didn’t know about Joseph Kony before, so this awareness is a good thing.” You might be right, but I think most people had heard of the child soldiers in Africa and the other atrocities like rape and murder. Putting a face on it might make it easier to digest, but that doesn’t make this a new issue.
I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t get involved. Absolutely, if your heart breaks for Africa, put your money where your mouth is, read up on the historical and political background of the situation and do something. (Posting a video doesn’t count.)
But like I said in the previous post, if you want to do good in this world, don’t spread yourself so thin by trying to address every issue that you can’t do anything more than post a video on Facebook. Pick a cause and focus on that. And encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you notice in my links, I have “Girl Effect” listed. It’s a great cause, I recommend you look into it and donate if you find it worthy. And if isn’t something you’re interested in, don’t post it to Facebook.
I am not encouraging apathy. Find a cause, devote yourself to it. My problem with this Joseph Kony stuff is that it actually causes apathy. You post the video on your page, your friends read the counterarguments against Invisible Children, and suddenly people have an excuse to not care. And not just about this cause, but every cause you post about in the future.
As a socially conscious, concerned member of an international society, it isn’t your responsibility to care about every issue that comes your way, and it certainly isn’t your job to turn your Facebook into one giant bulletin board for every global tragedy.
Pick a cause, research it, get involved, and then pass the information on to your friends.
I guarantee you, that kind of dedication will pay off greater dividends than a million video shares.