Joseph Kony and “Entitled Salvation” (Again)

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:

Joseph Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore.

Invisible Children is a questionable organization that misuses donations.

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.

Entitled Salvation: How Cartoons Saved the World

(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.

4 thoughts on “Joseph Kony and “Entitled Salvation” (Again)

  1. I totally agree, Joseph. I struggle b/c my heart genuinely does break for a lot of the issues going on in Africa. I have been fortunate enough to find an organization I truly believe in and can support ( However, being fairly involved with organization & following other not-for-profits/NGOs, I understand their use & need for social media. They use videos and pictures in hopes of pulling on heart strings and getting a donation out of it. They survive on that. So something like Stop Kony does seem to serve a purpose. It seems we have an NGO system that says, “You don’t really care, but hopefully we can get your attention enough for you to give us some of your money. We know you aren’t going to actually do something so we’ll take care of the ‘doing good.’ Leave the good-doing up to us and you go back to your TV and computer.”All the problems NGOs face are so complex and the average person doesn’t care enough to actually do the research to look into the problems. So, they donate their $5 and feel good about themselves. On the one hand the NGOs are more than glad to take that $5 but in the end is it doing more harm than good?

    I worked at an NGO immediately after the Haitian earthquake and got too see the complexities of people trying to help others play out. I answered the phones & processed the donation checks & fielded all the calls from people who wanted to volunteer. What I learned: people are endlessly selfish when wanting to help out a cause. It was disheartening. I talked to a lady who had taken it upon herself to host a donation drive and people donated all the crap they didn’t want to the Haitians. She called around & couldn’t find anyone to take it. Well my NGO couldn’t take it either. Ya know why? Because for crying out loud no one could get into Haiti. They could barely get in the necessary food & supplies into the country. People trying to help struggled getting into the country, and you want me to send your unwanted sweaters to people who don’t have food or water? No one thinks or takes time to research a problem. I also talked to several people who ready to pack their bags and head to Haiti that day. I had a man call me a zillion times and he was so mad that I couldn’t get his highly qualified self to Haiti immediately. It’s not that easy. For that time sending money was the absolute best way people could help, but they really wanted to donate their crap and/or volunteer (even though the Director of my NGO could barely get to Haiti in the beginning).

    The #1 problem I see is that Americans feel guilty (no one would agree to this) about our exceeding wealth and when we see someone living below our standards, we feel the need to provide them with all of the luxurious things we have. For example: The director of the NGO I worked for told me of a story of how he received a large shipment of fur coats that were donated to the people affected by the Tsunami in Indonesia. Are you kidding me?!?! Fur freakin coats?!? He told me of the numerous high heels donated to different disasters over the years. “I’ve lost everything but man I sure could use a pair of stilettos.” It’s maddening, and these donations end up clogging up a system b/c people have to sort through them & then figure out what to do with the stuff.

    All of this came to light when I made my first trip to Cape Town. I realized these impoverished (by American standards) children were endlessly happy even though they didn’t have running water in their house and only one pair of shoes (gasp). The help they need is different. They need mentors and education and access to books. They don’t need a wardrobe full of clothes or TV in their house. Most of all they need to know there is hope and they need be able to improve their own lives- not have someone try to do that for them.
    So not only are the problems of the world complex but then helping out those problems is just as complex. Do I send money? Do I go & help (that’s an entirely different argument. a lot more harm than good on short-term mission trips)? It seems no one cares enough to try to find out the answer.

    **sorry for the massively long comment

    • I certainly do not want to give the impression that I believe viral marketing like this is ineffective. The spread of this message is truly amazing and even if 99% of the people who view/post this video do nothing of substance, that is still a vast 1% that can have an effect. So I do not want to come off as criticizing the intent or the effort.

      There has been some legitimate concerns raised about Invisible Children and their tactics, but short of them funding an equally evil opposing warlord, I think their effort must be appreciated. However, as the one article I linked to pointed out, there are charities which have been working in the area for years and have a better track record as concerns use of funds, so I would hope people who are genuinely concerned about the issue (and not just jumping on the trend) will put their money to the best possible use. I realize most people (myself included) cannot drop whatever their current life is and go fight warlords, so giving money is probably the best they can do (certainly better than giving stilettos… seriously!?).

      I do think sending money is a good choice if no other avenues present themselves, and there are certainly great organizations to give money to. I personally always recommend Oxfam, as they seem to be as legit a charitable organization as there is (though, if someone knows of questionable practices within the organization, I’d be open to hearing about it). Plus, they are completely secular and that is important to me.

      Thank you for your insightful and informative response, Casey, you truly have an interesting perspective on the topic.

      Here’s hoping that the Kony2012 campaign leads to genuine change.

    • If your heart is open it can’t be broken. Konay ia a warmonger. Tell it how it is or don’t tell it at all. Make him famous for his crimes so everyone knows.

      • I want to say I appreciate your sentiment, but it’s not really “your” sentiment, it’s just a bunch of platitudes strung together like greeting cards in a blender. Sure, maybe Kony is “famous,” but so what? Is anything being changed? A million people with the attention spans of gnats have now switched their focus to Trayvon Martin, and in a week it’ll be some other issue du jour.
        I still maintain, 100 truly informed, actively engaged people are more valuable than 10 million Facebook posts.

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