With great wisdom, the world’s most generous billionaire knows full well that his wealth alone won’t achieve any of these lofty goals. Social change takes far more than enormous investments, though they’re a great place to start. Changing the world requires political will and shared social sentiments among millions. Changing the world requires more than a few famous people pouring dollars into innovations; it requires as many global citizens as possible to agree that no child should die of a preventable disease, that no person should go hungry when the tools exist to harvest natural resources, that no one should be denied financial security, even if their savings are humble, and that no young woman should ever be left behind simply because of her gender. Changing the world doesn’t happen with one massive policy change. It happens little by little, every day.
If 2014 has taught us anything about Social Justice, it’s that Martin Luther King’s mission for racial equality is far from fully accomplished. In the past year, discussions about racial equality have ripped through America’s consciousness, in the wake of the horrific murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, as well as the sick ‘revenge’ executions of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos …
Twelve souls perish in Paris and the Internet explodes with emotion and commentary; war is declared on the attackers. Twelve thousand souls perish in northern Nigeria, and we don’t blink a digital eye. Their suffering, though real and persistent and inescapable, remains largely unknown and rarely discussed. I ask you to think about why the world responds so forcefully to the plight of some people, while nearly ignoring the plight of others. (And to question whether or not we do this in our everyday lives? In what ways do we sometimes have more empathy with people like us, or more sympathy for ourselves and loved ones, than with people whose lives and backgrounds are different than ours?)
[Solving huge issues] sounds entirely out of reach for everyday people like me. I’m not a Minister, I’m not a Manager of an international development firm, I’m not a multi-million dollar donor. How am I supposed to change any of these things? Most of us really can’t, and won’t, make any enormous difference in these big changes needed. But as I reflected on our research findings with friends in Accra, and thought about why non-complex matters are often so impossible to put in motion, it occurred to me that this line of thinking is a valuable New Year reflection and resolution. What projects am I involved with in my life that require my commitment, my follow-through, my insistence to not give up? When complications arise, will I throw in the towel or will I find another solution? When timelines seem long and unpredictable, will I move, distracted, onto something new and exciting, or will I stick with the thing I committed to?
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” I wonder if Mandela has an extension to this quote, an additional line of wisdom that suggests what we do once we make those recognitions of the ways in which we have changed? The changes we all experience in life—significant whether we trek a Continent away, or remain in the city or town we grew up in—are, of course, inevitable. Unsurprising. Manageable, in the sense that they are to be expected. The more difficult exercise is figuring out how to continue relationships with loved ones as they go through these changes.
The gift of presence is certainly not a low-cost investment; the energy required to pull away from our Facebook feeds and abandon our email inboxes is formidable, in fact most days it feels simply insurmountable. But giving your ‘presence’ is the rarest gift, one that you alone can offer, and beautifully, one that leaves both recipient and giver all the better.
In 528 pages of grisly detail released just last week, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s long-awaited “Torture Report” details how the C.I.A. handled ‘criminals’ captured in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Water boarding, rectal feeding, psychological trauma, and worst of all, detention of innocent people. We must ask ourselves: generally our justice system purports to see suspected criminals as innocent until proven guilty; is it acceptable to reverse this standard on an issue of national defense? Additionally, the US regularly criticizes regimes of other countries for being inhumane; at what point can we expect to be taken seriously as a nation if we commit the same crimes that we criticize others for? Lastly, when, if ever, is it OK to abandon our (stated) values of respecting human life? If we wouldn’t want American prisoners of war treated in these ways, why do we think it’s OK to do it to others? If we’re unwilling to recognize and play by international rules, why would anyone else?