News from around the world certainly has been interesting of late. Unfortunately it shows no sign of letting up. I call that unfortunate because “interesting” usually means “bad” so far as news is concerned. Even when bad news doesn’t affect me directly, it’s troubling and problematic for me in two different ways.
Of course it makes me sad to read of people suffering anywhere, but it’s more than that. Like many people, I often don’t know what to do or how to react. For example, I started following the story about the conflict in Ivory Coast months ago. This was before the revolutions and unrest started sweeping through other parts of Africa and the Middle East. I guess it caught my attention because I’m a fan of the reggae singer Alpha Blondy, who’s from that country. The conflict, revolving around a contested election, dragged on and turned bloody and eventually a lot of people were killed. I think the final death toll was tallied in the thousands. I’m not sure of the factual details. I could look them up, but why bother? In fact, I wonder more and more what is the point of being an informed citizen of the world?
Americans are notoriously uninformed about world events, and I find that aspect of our national character rather depressing; but on the other hand I personally am surrounded by plenty of intelligent people who are quite well informed, and I still have to wonder: Where does it get us? So we know about stuff going on all over the globe. Do we use that information in any kind of meaningful way? For many of us, our participation in civic life begins and ends in the voting booth, with a choice between two highly unsatisfactory candidates. Being aware of a bloody crisis in Ivory Coast doesn’t really factor into that decision at all. I often say voting is the least of our civic duties. Being an informed voter takes time and energy, as does keeping abreast of world events. I’d much rather see people actively engaged in their local community. It’s great if people can do all these things, but in my experience a lot of people are running around busy, busy, busy, overwhelmed by the stresses and demands of modern life. I’m certainly no fan of ignorance, but I’m just saying if you need to tamp down your vociferous news consumption to make time for active engagement, you certainly have my approval.
I was talking about this to MaPó a couple days ago and she turned me on to Kiva Microfunds. I’ve heard about microfinance, and Kiva’s been around for years, but I’ve never investigated this before. So I invested $25 in a loan to a shopkeeper in Uganda. It would have been more “poetic,” or something, to invest in Ivory Coast, but Kiva doesn’t currently have any partners in Ivory Coast. Faith needed that last $25 to complete her loan of $650, so it seemed like a good first-time investment for me. It’s not much but at least it’s some sort of way to be involved globally.
(I hope it’s self-evident that I’m not offering the above as an example of “active engagement” in the “local community.” It’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite. My friend Heather Duke shared a quote from Mother Teresa via Facebook: “Start by helping the person closest to you.” I’m down with Mama T on that one. My local involvements are well-known to anyone who knows me, and those efforts represent an investment of far more than $25, though I primarily give of my time and energy, rather than my money. Localism has to come first, in my view. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m advocating we all invest in Kiva while ignoring our neighbors because I that would be a terrible idea.)
The other reason I find world events problematic is more personal and trivial: I constantly feel I should be writing about them here, even though I don’t have anything interesting to say. This is a journal of what’s going on in my life. When I read about a conflict elsewhere in the world, it’s not a part of my direct experience. But it can become an emotional force that impinges upon my consciousness such that I feel I have to account for it. If I leave it out I’m missing a major chunk of my day-to-day thoughts and feelings. Yet I really have nothing of substance to add beyond what’s reported in the media. For me to pontificate on the ramifications of the conflict in Ivory Coast would be the height of foolishness. So I’m left in a quandary, damned if I do, damned if I don’t.