During all these years I have thought of my inclination to do humanitarian work. Am I looking for an adrenaline rush? Travel or adventure? New experiences? Is it so I can test my inner strength? Or is it a quest for social justice that compels me? Do I want to be a witness? Do I want to make a sand-grain contribution towards collective wellbeing? Do I want to rattle my complacency by knowing what it is like to live in a place where your morning doesn’t start with a latte and end with a martini?
It was during my interview with MSF, back in July 2015 in Yangon, Myanmar, when the answer to my self-interrogation crystallized. I had recently finished reading Bury the Chains and Life in Crisis. Too often, bombarded by news of senseless violence and poverty fuelled by corruption, greed, and ignorance, one hears the tired axiom “Nothing you can do about it, that’s the way it is”. But we have done something about it. We abolished slavery in its most brutal form. We have created welfare. We have given women the right to choose. We have increased our tolerance to our differences. Now I know what you are thinking…slavery still exists in covert ways; not all women can choose; not all differences are tolerated; and welfare is a luxury that exists in only a few parts of our world. But when one considers that “human rights” isn’t even potty-trained, what we have accomplished is not so dismal.
We are psychologically evolving, or at least making choices about our future. Slavery was engrained in the economic and social psyche of our ancestors; today’s readers cannot read about it without being astonished at its brutality and senselessness. Today, the “inevitability” of violence and poverty are engrained in us. Tomorrow’s readers will be aghast at its brutality and senselessness.
Apart from being shamelessly hopeful, but not naïve about the centuries of work that lie ahead, I have also made a choice.
Knowing what I know about our world so far, I do not want to find myself “looking from the side”. That’s my choice.