Is Raising Awareness the First Step?
I wanted to follow-up briefly on my post earlier this week about Kony 2012 and the complexity of true compassion.
It bothers me that modern media, whether videos, blogs, or photographs, is so truncated. I realize that in discussing the over-simplification of Kony 2012, I too simplified a complicated issue.
Nick Kristof’s column in The New York Times today addresses some of the concerns of Invisible Children’s critics. In it he expresses frustration that “a young man devotes nine years of his life to fight murder, rape and mutilation, he produces a video that goes viral and galvanizes mostly young Americans to show concern for needy villagers abroad — and he’s vilified.”
I and many other critics don’t want to vilify Invisible Children. When I was at NYU, a number of my friends got behind the organization when they first launched a campaign to show solidarity with child soldiers. It was the first time I learned about child soldiers, and even though I didn’t get involved in the campaign, the people who did do amazing things now: they produce documentaries, travel the globe, and work tirelessly for people who have less than them. In part because of groups like Invisible Children, I now volunteer with and write on behalf of refugees.
Awareness is a great thing. Awareness isn’t the problem. It’s the solutions this viral video offers that I have a problem with.
Kristof goes on to say, “If I were a Congolese villager, I would welcome these uncertain efforts over the sneering scorn of do-nothing armchair cynics.”
Talk about vilified. Critics of Kony 2012 include Ivy League lawyers, humanitarians on the ground in Uganda, and Africans – yes actual Africans – who find it paternalistic and insulting. They and I are not do-nothing armchair cynics. We simply want solutions that are realistic and respectful, and we’re concerned that a generation of me-now millennials is learning that neither realism nor respect are necessary as long as you raise awareness and “care.”
Parents all over the country applaud the film for introducing their children to something better than usual YouTube fare. They, along with other supporters, say over and over that raising awareness is the first step. If I had children, I’d probably feel the same thing. Raising awareness is wonderful, and it’s certainly better than nothing. Shining light into darkness has a lot of power and can lead to conversations like the many we’re having about Kony 2012.
But it’s only a first step. It’s not the first step.
Other first steps, in Kony’s case, occurred when African groups began to protect and defend themselves from his forces and establish organizations to help victims. They occurred when the International Criminal Court added him to their wishlist. They occurred when multiple documentaries began showing these children’s plights.
In other words, the first steps started a long time ago. Just because we weren’t a part of them doesn’t mean they weren’t happening.
We should be grateful for the opportunity not to start something against Kony but to join something that’s already been around for years. Are young people really so narcissistic that they can’t learn to listen to the Ugandan, Congolese, and South Sudanese people with whom they are joining up to fight? I don’t think so, and I hope Invisible Children will encourage them to do so once they’re done hanging posters.
And while I love Kristof’s willingness to write about difficult, relatively unknown subjects, my criticism of him has always been the same as my criticism of Kony 2012: war instigated by the United States isn’t the solution to every problem on earth.
In fact – and I won’t go into a list here (as much as I’d like to) – we have a concrete reputation around the world for making things worse.
I am thrilled that more people want to raise awareness for some of the many atrocities happening in the world today. I don’t want to be – and don’t think I am – a cynic. I certainly don’t want to sit from my armchair (if I had one) and criticize people who are doing good.
But is it really so unloving, lazy, and cynical to want to have a reasonable discussion of what “doing good” means in a world of too much PTSD, battle fatigue, and rubble from war?