I had the great pleasure on Christmas of meeting and talking to some very passionate people at the dinners I was invited to. I knew the one woman I met in the evening a little bit by reputation if nothing else. She is one of those fun, eclectic souls who I have a lot in common with while at the same time being completely different from. She talked a lot about fracking and how horrible it is for the environment. She spoke with deep conviction about the harm we are doing to the environment and the consequences to future generations. She has been to protests and has invested a lot of her time and effort into fighting against fracking and those who do it.
What shocked me was towards the end of the evening when she told me point-blank that “intelligent, compassionate, educated people like you should stop being wrapped up in their own narrow world and wake up to what’s going on!”
Thankfully I was sleepy, the room was warm, and my hostess for the evening took up the conversation, because I might have said something I would have regretted without the benefit of time to think about it.
What would I have said?
Well, that same afternoon I had been invited to lunch with several foreign students studying in the US. Three of them were from Korea. We talked a bit about the dangers to their country now that North Korea has been destabilized. We also talked about the difference in the educational systems between the US, with its hands-on, sometimes alternative methods of teaching, and South Korea, where uniformed students sit quietly in rows listening to the teacher and memorizing the material for tests. This student was passionate about educational reform and teaching kids to think dynamically.
I had spent the day before at my dear friend Saru’s house. Saru is from India, Punjab, and has talked to me at length about her passion and concern for the way girls are treated in her country. She has seen girls ignored at best, abandoned and aborted at worst, and mistreated by their families. She is passionate about supporting efforts to promote the importance and welfare of girl children in India and even sponsors a young girl growing up in an orphanage back home.
I find it interesting when I stop to think about it how many causes and issues there are in the world and how different things appeal to different people. Personally, I find myself caring very deeply about the plight of girls in India and I would love to be able to do more about it. I also feel strongly about education and ensuring that every young person in the world gets the best education possible. And from what I know about fracking it seems like a bad idea. But unlike the treatment of girls in India, I don’t feel at all passionate about trying to stop fracking.
I think that if I had been a little more awake when the veiled accusation that all intelligent, compassionate people should fight to stop the destruction of our environment I might have responded something like this….
We live in an imperfect world. As humans we all have the freedom to make choices every day. That’s why there are so many injustices in the world. But to say that all intelligent people should care about the issue you care about is really short-sighted when there are so many problems that need addressing in the world. Yeah, maybe fracking is bad. I haven’t read enough about it to be sure. Maybe it will cause harm to our grandchildren. But there are girls in India that aren’t getting a chance to live at all because of arcane ways of thinking that need to be changed now. Shouldn’t intelligent, compassionate people care about preventing the murders of innocent girls?
It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. The fact that I am not protesting or giving money to those who do, the fact that I don’t think about it much at all doesn’t mean I’m a selfish, blind contributor to the problem. Each of us can only do so much in so many areas to help the world. I happen to put my energy to use in other areas.
But that’s good! We need to diversify when it comes to investing energy in preventing the ills of the world. There are so many things out there that need someone to care about them. Just because someone isn’t willing to take up a sign and picket right next to you doesn’t mean they are a horrible person. They just have a different cause. Maybe it’s just my own personal sense of “if you want something done you have to do it yourself”, but I get irritated with people who take up a cause and then expect everyone else to take it up too just because they think it’s important. It comes too close to “I want this to happen, so you need to do it!”
I can hear the argument, “If everyone would just wake up and care about the environment then we could do so much!” But if everyone cared about the environment then who would care about famine in Africa or poverty in South America or racial inequality or gay rights? There are so many things to care about and fight for.
So while I really enjoyed meeting this woman on Christmas, she made me a bit uncomfortable. In the long run I think we might all be more successful at making the world a better place if we could support each other’s different issues and causes without dropping back into thinking that everyone should do things the way we want them done and care about them the way we want things cared about.
Now I’m curious…. What’s your cause? What issue do you feel passionate about?