There is a Jewish proverb that I have loved for many, many years. I have seen it tattooed on backs and arms, painted as graffiti, written on inspirational posters. However, when I stop and think about this proverb it is an extraordinary ask. To speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to defend the rights of those who are destitute. Many associate this proverb with those living in poverty. The World Bank says 735 million people are living in poverty and that figure is only those who live in extreme poverty. It does not include all who we may call poor. It is just those who live in a situation where life cannot be sustained. Others would link this proverb to those who are experiencing human rights violations. In todays world nearly 66 million people from all walks of life are forcibly displaced due to war, persecution, consequences of climate change and crushing poverty. In 2016 alone, 22 million people, half of them children, registered as refugees. Many of these people crossed borders with alarming risk, not knowing if they would ever return to their homes. They face starvation, illness, human trafficking, violence, rape and an ever-heightening intolerance for their presence. Others would think of women living in highly vulnerable situations or marginalised people groups that experience relentless persecution due to their race, religion or simply their facial features that show they are the other. It is overwhelming to think how we might speak up for such a volume of suffering souls. All of these tragic circumstances are a symptom of an increasing level of global instability. Whether it be corruption, war, exploitative behaviours of global corporations, economic exploitation of powerful countries over emerging nations, changing climates, racial and religious intolerance, rampant and unchecked corruption, among many other challenges, they create a complex web of powerlessness that creates these incomprehensible statistics. Let alone imagining the consequences of the children that make up at least half of the hundreds of millions of people. Children growing up without hope, without prospects for the future, without any sense of being able to make something of their lives or to simply feel, safe.
It can render you feeling hopeless, wondering how to speak up for so many. Margot Waddell once wrote about the experience of being a bystander. Often the bystander, of say a car accident, feels
overwhelmed and fearful which leads to helplessness. They freeze and end up doing nothing but
watching on. In many cases someone, whether an emergency services person or a ‘good Samaritan’ eventually acts and becomes someone who ‘stands-by’. With whatever resources they have, they dare be touched by the situation and come alongside those suffering. This raises an important principle for those who wish to be people who ‘stand-by’. It raises the principle of compassion. Unlike pity, which is just an emotion, compassion is a feeling and a decision - to be touched, to empathise and to share in the suffering. At times like this - the start of the year - we often feel most courageous about the year ahead. Whether about some personal goal we want to achieve or simply the sense of a fresh start on those things we have felt helplessness about. If we are going to make our best response to the ask in this proverb to speak up, to defend, then we must allow ourselves to participate with compassion and to be courageous in our disposition.
We can turn this tide of suffering around. We can contribute to a shift in a world where those same
children referred to before can flourish if we can contribute in significant ways. This is actually not about money. This is about a change of heart, a step of courage, a willingness to be touched as we engage. It can look like this:
We must first overcome the misunderstanding driven by myths that those caught in these situations are to be blamed. They are not stupid or lazy or perpetrators of the violence.
Dare to let yourself believe otherwise and imagine “what if I knew them and care for them. How would I act?”.
Our solutions must hit at the root causes not the symptoms to global instability.
Dare to learn about the companies you purchase from and engage with. What role do they play in
solving or deepening global instability, exploitation and power imbalances?
Become aware of changing climates and the effect they are having on those most vulnerable to those changes.
Dare to seek opportunities to engage with events that care for our environments.
There are some many ways you can engage with those who are destitute….
Dare to be informed through the numerous resources available to better understand the experience of a refugee or asylum seeker.
Open your heart to those who face barriers to their own inclusion in a brighter future because they live with a disability, a disease or stigma like leprosy, HIV/AIDS. Dare to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes and what you would hope from those who have the power to stand by you.
Dare to believe in them, support work that focuses on local communities being active partners in tackling the root causes of instability and are best placed to inform and shape their future.
Dare to Invest in them, be courageous and invest in social enterprises that are challenging local, national and global markets by pushing the majority of the profit to people living in poverty contexts.
Have faith. Don’t underestimate the power of faith to impact global issues and shape global
Dare to find a way to soften your heart. The more immune we are to people’s suffering the more
indifference and a sense of powerlessness grows.
Don’t become a bystander, be prepared to be touched as you look to stand by those who are no different to you but for a geographical destiny.
by Anthony Sell (Transform Aid International, TAI