Time for Change
With so much happening around the world right now it’s hard to keep up with everything. The media are flat out covering revolutions and natural disasters in the likes of Tunisia, Japan, Egypt, Syria, Haiti and New Zealand. Modern technology delivers us to the very chaotic streets where the fighting or tragedy is, sometimes in real time. We are transported into the homes of those struggling for freedom or survival.
The media knows we connect better with personal stories. They know we are more likely to tune in when the story is broken down to individual families, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Like privileged, close friends our TV sets allow us to sit in the living rooms of others listening to painful heart wrenching cries for freedom from people we have never met. From the comfort of our own home we hear voices translated from other tongues while our minds struggle to understand the magnitude of pain, suffering and loss.
Voices from revolutions and tragedies will always fill our minds. But, unless we are actually part of the event we’ll move on, surprisingly quickly. There will always be new stories to listen to; other fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters out there who will invite us into their lives. It’s like watching a new Hollywood movie. We watch, talk about how good or bad it was, and then go and watch the next one because there’s always a new one to see. The media always moves on to the latest and greatest and so do we.
While it’s true we move on, we do respond. When tragedy hits the media gather quickly, beam it into our homes and the world responds. We heard the cries from Haiti as if they were our next door neighbours. Their stories grabbed our hearts and minds and we, the rest of the world, responded quickly with donations, relief and resources. In the last 12 months I’ve met countless people who have actually gone to Haiti and helped in whatever way they could. And I want to say – good on us – we the citizens of the world have rallied on behalf of our fellow human beings.
It’s hard to find Haiti in the news now though, even though the rebuilding of lives and property still goes on. Christchurch, the next cab on the ramp, came along and caught our attention. Immediately teams from around the world dropped in and helped with rescue and cleanup. They were amazing. But, now the teams are gone and so is the hope that the international community might in a significant way contribute financially to rebuilding the city. All eyes are now on Japan and the massive recovery and rebuilding there. You see, we respond to the latest and greatest – we dig, sometimes deep, into our pockets in times of sudden tragedy and crisis.
We’re not so good, however, at responding to tragedies that have always been there. The media won’t cover them with the same enthusiasm because it’s the sudden things that make us stop, watch, listen and read. The media’s aim is to get us to watch their news channel, read their newspaper or magazine, or click on their website. Air time is given to events that are more likely to grab our attention. Give the customer what they want. Business is business. Sadly, ongoing or old tragedies are not so good for business. We, the customers have grown used to living with things in our world that are absolutely dreadful and it’s either become normal for us or because we choose to remain ignorant.
One of those great Hollywood films we watched not so long ago was “Amazing Grace.” For most of us the thought of forcibly removing Africans from home and country and shipping them off to be sold as slaves is horrific. It’s a piece of history we never want to see repeated in our world again. We’re glad for people like William Wilberforce who in the midst of huge opposition and indifference fought against this unbelievable and terrible injustice. I remember getting to the end of the film and wanting to cry out in celebration “Slavery is over. The world will tolerate slavery no more!” And good on us. Citizens of the world must rally on behalf of others and against others to put an end to injustice.
Sadly though, slavery is not over and we have nothing to celebrate. To our shame there are 27 million men, women and children enslaved in our world today. And because of our ignorance we still picture slavery as something that happened back then when African’s were chained to one another on ships on their way to market.
We sit on the edge of our seats watching footage of the north eastern coast of Japan and wonder how anyone could possibly recover from losing homes and loved ones all at the same time? And while we contemplate the thousands who have perished in Japan most of us have never heard about the 2 million children exploited as sex slaves every single year. Little girls and boys stolen, locked up for the pleasure of men. And although the numbers are staggering it’s not breaking news, it’s old news. This kind of news is found in the occasional documentary and let’s be honest, it’s too easy to watch another channel.
A few hundred thousand Haitians and the world responds. Six to eight hundred thousand people trafficked across international borders every year, mainly for slave labour and sex and the world hardly knows. It’s been going on for years and it’s not new and besides - how would we respond?
We’re much more comfortable responding to things sudden. We know what to do – put our hands into our pockets for relief, food, medicine and resources. The fact of the matter is it’s easier to respond with money and short term help. We can justify giving our time, money or both as long as, having done our bit, we are free to get back on with our lives again.
The response to injustice however needs to be different. It calls for a change in our thinking and lifestyle forever. As someone who has been ignorant for years, for me it means making the choice not to be ignorant any longer. It means not only opening our eyes to what is happening around the world but understanding what is happening in our immediate world, our neighbourhood. To stop saying “It doesn’t happen here,” and to actually knowing what does. To be able to move from not wanting to get involved to being generous with our time knowing that is the most precious thing we often have to give. Easier to give a donation than spend hours with someone who needs a listening ear.
It’s taking the time to think about how we purchase. Asking questions like, “Did the producers of these clothes get paid a fair and just wage?” Go a step further and buy from organisations that have been fully scrutinised for fair trade practices even though their products cost more. Slave labour thrives on the cheap products we buy. I used to think I was getting a real bargain until one day I realised I just wasn’t thinking at all. As long as we buy cheap products made by sweat shops, the market for those products will always remain. And so will the slaves.
For those of us in business we have much larger buying decisions. Being competitive in the market place is always difficult, but if competitiveness comes at the expense of the exploitation of men, women, and children then better not to be in business at all.
If enough of us change the way we purchase surely it will eventually dictate the products on offer in the market. Just like the media, what we want will be served up. “Give the customer what they want, business is business.” Ultimately purchasing power can be a strong advocate for justice.
And if the marketplace for consumer goods can change what’s on offer, then maybe the media can change what it serves up too. Could we, the customers, dare to call for justice to have parity with the coverage of sudden tragedies? Change doesn’t happen by picketing outside media offices. It happens when enough of us are committed to losing our ignorance by showing an ever growing interest in understanding the injustices of our world today. As long as the media can sell their advertising while we are watching, they will oblige.
Then maybe, just maybe, after we are more aware and have time to respond the stories we watch in the comfort of our living rooms of little girls stolen for the pleasure of men will become less and less because we, citizens of the world, have changed not only the way we think but the way we live. A change in our lives can mean a change in theirs.