Don’t Stamp on the Seedling…

The Kony 2012 campaign has caused a huge stir in the world.

Is it good?

Is it bad?

Are we being fooled?

Are the organisers just manipulating us so they can make lots of money?

Is it foolishly idealistic?

I’m a European and I’m a born cynic (ask my family) and here is what I think.

It is important to know – as much as possible – what is going on.  It is important to investigate truth for oneself and not to be duped but here are the questions I have asked myself about this campaign -

If my child was in danger from Joseph Kony would I want help?

Would I feel insulted if people from other countries tried to help me?

Would I care if they were making mistakes or would I be glad someone was trying – even imperfectly – to help me?

There is a lot of criticism about the Invisible Children campaign but I haven’t read – or heard – even one thing that says their accusations against Joseph Kony are false. Everybody says the same thing about him – he is a vicious criminal and nobody has managed to stop him.

So, what is bothering us, exactly? That we’ll be fooled?

OK – that’s not pleasant but I’d prefer to run the risk of looking foolish than to leave people in danger because I was busy protecting my ego – wouldn’t you?

As for the paternalism accusations – helping anybody, anywhere, any time can be seen as paternalistic – it’s all about how it’s done. So here are my questions about that -

Are the people (even the Ugandans) who are objecting to the campaign the ones living in terror?

Do the people who live in this abject terror object to the attempts to help them?

If those in the firing line are happy to receive the help – and I don’t know if they are but it seems that way – is it not really incredibly paternalistic to say they don’t know what is best for themselves?

Saying we don’t want help from outside is a divisive act like saying we will only help our own people.  National boundaries are increasingly illusory and increasingly impossible to uphold in the ways we used to define them in the past.  The earth is clearly more and more obviously just like one country, so unless the assistance is extra-terrestrial surely it isn’t really from outside?

As for accusations against the Ugandan government – I imagine they are mostly true but I wonder would any of our governments stand up to much scrutiny and if not should that deprive us of help from others?

This campaign interests me because it is trying to find ways to use our present day social reality to facilitate some good.

I’m sure it’s flawed. I’m sure they are making mistakes. I’m sure it won’t be entirely successful but here’s the final question I ask myself about this -

If this campaign helps to improve the life of one child will it be worthwhile?

For me the answer is yes.

  

Comments

Don’t Stamp on the Seedling… — 50 Comments

  1. Very interesting post. I must say all of these things did pop into my mind as I watched the video. It was so beautifully done, so heart-wrenching, so emotive, that it would be almost impossible to watch it and not to want to jump on board and help out in any way you can. And yet in this day and age we can’t help but maintain an underlying cynicism. Your point about needing to investigate for ourselves is so true. And yet, like you said, its still better that we assume the worst and try to do something about it. Thanks for such an honest and thought-provoking post.

    Cat

  2. Very interesting post. I must say all of these things did pop into my mind as I watched the video. It was so beautifully done, so heart-wrenching, so emotive, that it would be almost impossible to watch it and not to want to jump on board and help out in any way you can. And yet in this day and age we can’t help but maintain an underlying cynicism. Your point about needing to investigate for ourselves is so true. And yet, like you said, its still better that we assume the worst and try to do something about it. Thanks for such an honest and thought-provoking post.

    Cat

  3. …here is a thought:

    It is so much easier wanting to help something so far away,
    And it is so much more difficult facing the way children are being treated right where we are.

    The most difficult part however is to understand how each and everyone of us makes a Joseph Kony possible.

    And that is the uneasiness about it.

    • I totally agree with that and I think that they aren’t mutually exclusive. We do need to urgently see what we do in our own societies and elsewhere to make these atrocities possible. When one reads any of the recent child abuse scandals (Ireland has an inglorious record in this regard) it is clear that enough ‘good people doing nothing’ – for whatever reason – seems to be the commonest factor in the perpetuation of suffering.

  4. Amen! I am with you on this one. Spreading the word with all we got is the only way the world we see what is going on underneath their noses. I always say that “Injustice continues when we choose to close our eyes”.

    • Sometimes we close our eyes because we feel powerless to do anything – that’s why this is interesting to me – it seems as if people are almost longing to be able to help which is a most encouraging sign.

  5. Amen! I am with you on this one. Spreading the word with all we got is the only way the world we see what is going on underneath their noses. I always say that “Injustice continues when we choose to close our eyes”.

    • Sometimes we close our eyes because we feel powerless to do anything – that’s why this is interesting to me – it seems as if people are almost longing to be able to help which is a most encouraging sign.

  6. Agreed, (about the question of helping even one child), and also believe that this campaign, as imperfect or flawed as it may be, will help the WORLD answer the question of whether or not we can cross borders and jump across the oceans and come together for a singular purpose.

    If we can prove to the WORLD that we can collectively make it possible to stop one man who is unquestionably committing atrocious acts against children, then we will have proven that many voices joined together can improve our world.

    It doesn’t have to be about politics, or money, or furthering our own interests … all it has to be about is identifying evil, standing up and saying we will not accept it, and then pooling our resources to use peaceful intention to eliminate that evil. If we can save one child, we can save others (whether homeless kids in the streets of Bombay, or impoverished and hungry children in the Appalachian mountains of the USA, or children being forced to pick up a weapon and fight someone else’s war in Uganda). If we focus our attention in one direction, collectively, we can make one small difference. And then another.

    I see this not only as a campaign against the terror that is represented by Kony, but also as a huge social experiment in which we test the limits of how much power can be wielded by using social media to ask the powers of the world to listen to the people in the world. Can our voices be loud enough to effect change? Can we join together, across borders, and be heard?

    The other thing that sticks with me is what I am being asked to do in this process. It does not REQUIRE me to lend financial support. All they ask is that we share the message. That we keep expanding the circle of awareness. If we do our research, and then make the decision to contribute financially to this cause, then that is our choice. But ultimately, the act of spreading the word costs us nothing. And if calling attention to this brutality can save even one child, then, YES, it is certainly worth a few minutes of my time.

    No matter how I dissect the issue, it always comes back to that. Thank you for so eloquently putting words to what many people are asking right now. Very well done, and nicely worded. Excellent.

  7. Agreed, (about the question of helping even one child), and also believe that this campaign, as imperfect or flawed as it may be, will help the WORLD answer the question of whether or not we can cross borders and jump across the oceans and come together for a singular purpose.

    If we can prove to the WORLD that we can collectively make it possible to stop one man who is unquestionably committing atrocious acts against children, then we will have proven that many voices joined together can improve our world.

    It doesn’t have to be about politics, or money, or furthering our own interests … all it has to be about is identifying evil, standing up and saying we will not accept it, and then pooling our resources to use peaceful intention to eliminate that evil. If we can save one child, we can save others (whether homeless kids in the streets of Bombay, or impoverished and hungry children in the Appalachian mountains of the USA, or children being forced to pick up a weapon and fight someone else’s war in Uganda). If we focus our attention in one direction, collectively, we can make one small difference. And then another.

    I see this not only as a campaign against the terror that is represented by Kony, but also as a huge social experiment in which we test the limits of how much power can be wielded by using social media to ask the powers of the world to listen to the people in the world. Can our voices be loud enough to effect change? Can we join together, across borders, and be heard?

    The other thing that sticks with me is what I am being asked to do in this process. It does not REQUIRE me to lend financial support. All they ask is that we share the message. That we keep expanding the circle of awareness. If we do our research, and then make the decision to contribute financially to this cause, then that is our choice. But ultimately, the act of spreading the word costs us nothing. And if calling attention to this brutality can save even one child, then, YES, it is certainly worth a few minutes of my time.

    No matter how I dissect the issue, it always comes back to that. Thank you for so eloquently putting words to what many people are asking right now. Very well done, and nicely worded. Excellent.

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  10. I worry how easily we dismiss and critique because we can’t comprehend (“just world hypothesis” comes to mind).

    I worry how if it doesn’t meet our own conscious paradigm, head on with undeniable clarity, we decide it’s ok to not feel bad about this, to not promote a potential message that could do some good, and to dismiss the whole thing.

    I worry that we’ve been burned so deeply by our prophets of peace, the leaders of the world, and the messages of our own corrupt cultures, that we’ve ceased to believe any good can come from our attentive efforts. Our efforts to do good, should be good… but we also need to believe in doing good again. Thank you for your thoughts on this T.

    • I agree, Erik, you are right – it’s true that we have been burned so many times we are afraid, which is awful, but it’s worse (as you say) to be deprived of trying to do good as a result of it.

  11. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so this campaign is doing pretty well. Anything that raises awareness of child abuse in all its incarnations can’t be all bad.

    • Exactly. I have a friend who says that the problem with child abuse is that there is no taboo against abusing children, only against talking about it. Though this has improved it is a difficult subject to even think about – the suffering of, and the suffering caused by child soldiers, so it is worth it from that point of view alone.

  12. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so this campaign is doing pretty well. Anything that raises awareness of child abuse in all its incarnations can’t be all bad.

    • Exactly. I have a friend who says that the problem with child abuse is that there is no taboo against abusing children, only against talking about it. Though this has improved it is a difficult subject to even think about – the suffering of, and the suffering caused by child soldiers, so it is worth it from that point of view alone.

  13. What is interesting though, if you research and get to the bottom of this – it is about money, politics and power. Who has an interest in protecting Kony ? The whole region is involved in arms trade and the apparent Kony conflict is a fantastic reason to buy more and more arms ( Uganda is considered a safe country, so they get the end-user certificate to import weapons to sell them to neighboring Congo etc.

    And as admirable and laudable an initiative as ” invisible children” is – they are also missing the point, because Kony is not the reason for the atrocities. The lucrative business selling arms is.

    • That is undeniably true as well. And the question here, of course, is who is selling the weapons. But even so I think it’s like the initiatives taken to try to stop sex trafficking – obviously most of these don’t – can’t – attack the root of the problem but it has been found that making circumstances difficult for those using the services of these enslaved children has created a reduction in demand and therefore in the abduction and duping of children for this purpose. It’s a bit like arresting Al Capone for tax infringements. Still got him off the street.

  14. You say, If this campaign helps to improve the life of one child will it be worthwhile? For me the answer is yes.

    Several others agree with you . . . no doubt because it sounds good to say that EVERY child matters (rather like the “No Child Left Behind Act” that is failing so miserably in the states).

    From my perspective, your response is rather facile. What if you KNEW that helping THAT one child would hurt 957 others?

    Still say yes?

    • Clearly not – nobody would. But the thing is, Nancy, I haven’t seen anything that suggests such a scenario is the case. Maybe I missed it, somewhere?

      The point I was making refers to the Kony 2012 campaign but it is a more general point as well – we need to stop being the good people doing nothing.

      All I see around me is paralysis. Good people afraid to help – not just in this but in anything – in case they make a mistake. In case it’s wrong/they are duped etc. And of course this is possible but what is the alternative?

      In the countless child abuse scandals in Ireland (and probably elsewhere) story after story is told of people – children – looking for help and not receiving it. And the stories told about these children to the general public, by those in power at the time, were at least part of the reason.

      Ordinary people felt sorry for children who were in obvious distress but thought, well this child has committed a crime/has no parents to teach them right from wrong and so he or she might be lying about the teacher or the nun or the priest or foster parent etc so I better not do anything. I’d better not interfere.

      The commonest strategy used often is to discredit the witness, so I am always slow to buy that, I guess. Not that I stop there, it just sets off alarm bells for me as an individual and makes me ask more questions – but on all sides.

      Each one of us has to make a decision about what we feel we should do – my decision is that I’m going to try – imperfectly and sometimes mistakenly but I think I am careful and I put a lot of thought into things and I’m willing to keep thinking and evaluating all along the way, not expecting to be able to make one sweeping decision about anything. I think that’s all I can do as an individual – so that’s what I’ll do.

  15. You say, If this campaign helps to improve the life of one child will it be worthwhile? For me the answer is yes.

    Several others agree with you . . . no doubt because it sounds good to say that EVERY child matters (rather like the “No Child Left Behind Act” that is failing so miserably in the states).

    From my perspective, your response is rather facile. What if you KNEW that helping THAT one child would hurt 957 others?

    Still say yes?

    • Clearly not – nobody would. But the thing is, Nancy, I haven’t seen anything that suggests such a scenario is the case. Maybe I missed it, somewhere?

      The point I was making refers to the Kony 2012 campaign but it is a more general point as well – we need to stop being the good people doing nothing.

      All I see around me is paralysis. Good people afraid to help – not just in this but in anything – in case they make a mistake. In case it’s wrong/they are duped etc. And of course this is possible but what is the alternative?

      In the countless child abuse scandals in Ireland (and probably elsewhere) story after story is told of people – children – looking for help and not receiving it. And the stories told about these children to the general public, by those in power at the time, were at least part of the reason.

      Ordinary people felt sorry for children who were in obvious distress but thought, well this child has committed a crime/has no parents to teach them right from wrong and so he or she might be lying about the teacher or the nun or the priest or foster parent etc so I better not do anything. I’d better not interfere.

      The commonest strategy used often is to discredit the witness, so I am always slow to buy that, I guess. Not that I stop there, it just sets off alarm bells for me as an individual and makes me ask more questions – but on all sides.

      Each one of us has to make a decision about what we feel we should do – my decision is that I’m going to try – imperfectly and sometimes mistakenly but I think I am careful and I put a lot of thought into things and I’m willing to keep thinking and evaluating all along the way, not expecting to be able to make one sweeping decision about anything. I think that’s all I can do as an individual – so that’s what I’ll do.

    • I am not pointing to something specific, but supporting a cause based on the premise that “helping even one child” makes it worthwhile is just a “feel good” sort of statement.

      It’s an EMOTIONAL appeal that makes people feel good as they say it . . . but it doesn’t actually HELP anyone.

      Anyway, just off the top of my head, here’s a possible scenario using the premise of the Butterfly Effect that anything can change everything:

      Millions invest time, energy, and money in the Kony 2012 campaign.
      The Kony 2012 Campaign makes lots of money.
      Like “March for a Cure,” most $’s go to pay staff salaries at Invisible Child.
      Only a small % of dollars make it to Africa to neutralize Kony.
      In the end . . . one child is helped.

      But . . .

      Because of the resources expended on Kony 2012, people have less time, energy and money for other causes.
      They feel they’ve done their part and rest on their laurels.
      Then they find out that the campaign only made money for the non-profit.
      That pisses them off because (1) their money didn’t neutralize Kony and (2) they have less time, money, and energy for other causes.
      They stop contributing to non-profits because of the fraudulent cause.
      They refuse to help children, even in “their own backyard.”
      957 children who “would have” received support from legitimate charities do not.
      They die, lost and alone.
      The end.

      You might want to read this post about how some non-profits pull at our heartstrings to raise money for causes that never get that money . . . because the CEOs of the non-profits use it to line their own pockets:

      http://lifeintheboomerlane.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/komen-foundation-race-for-the-consumer/

      We do not have the time, money, or energy to fully research or support any and all causes. We must decide which causes are worthy of our support without falling for statements like “if even one child is helped, it will be worth it.”

      • I am not suggesting anything for anybody else insofar as I think it is essential for each of us to do our own research and make our own decisions – just as you suggest. I can’t find evidence that Invisible Children is either fraudulent or not a legitimate charity – again though perhaps I have missed something.

        Your scenario of disillusion is, of course, possible, but so are many other positive ones so how can we decide? I read the post you included and it is an interesting – and valid – point of view and overall I totally agree with the principle. I understand that a possible way to defraud me – and others like me – is to appeal to my ‘heart’ but unless I, as an individual, can see some way in which any positive action – not just this – seeks to defraud (and again I can’t find that but I’m open to evidence) then I will always be in favour of it.

        I agree that we have limited ability and time to research causes etc but think we need to do some research – that’s how I decide which causes are worth my support and I don’t really see any difference between that and what you propose. My personal view about the ‘one child’ has as much positive butterfly potential as negative in my view – but we might have to agree to differ on this one, Nancy!

  16. I totally agree with that and I think that they aren’t mutually exclusive. We do need to urgently see what we do in our own societies and elsewhere to make these atrocities possible. When one reads any of the recent child abuse scandals (Ireland has an inglorious record in this regard) it is clear that enough ‘good people doing nothing’ – for whatever reason – seems to be the commonest factor in the perpetuation of suffering.

  17. I agree, Erik, you are right – it’s true that we have been burned so many times we are afraid, which is awful, but it’s worse (as you say) to be deprived of trying to do good as a result of it.

  18. That is undeniably true as well. And the question here, of course, is who is selling the weapons. But even so I think it’s like the initiatives taken to try to stop sex trafficking – obviously most of these don’t – can’t – attack the root of the problem but it has been found that making circumstances difficult for those using the services of these enslaved children has created a reduction in demand and therefore in the abduction and duping of children for this purpose. It’s a bit like arresting Al Capone for tax infringements. Still got him off the street.

  19. I am not suggesting anything for anybody else insofar as I think it is essential for each of us to do our own research and make our own decisions – just as you suggest. I can’t find evidence that Invisible Children is either fraudulent or not a legitimate charity – again though perhaps I have missed something.

    Your scenario of disillusion is, of course, possible, but so are many other positive ones so how can we decide? I read the post you included and it is an interesting – and valid – point of view and overall I totally agree with the principle. I understand that a possible way to defraud me – and others like me – is to appeal to my ‘heart’ but unless I, as an individual, can see some way in which any positive action – not just this – seeks to defraud (and again I can’t find that but I’m open to evidence) then I will always be in favour of it.

    I agree that we have limited ability and time to research causes etc but think we need to do some research – that’s how I decide which causes are worth my support and I don’t really see any difference between that and what you propose. My personal view about the ‘one child’ has as much positive butterfly potential as negative in my view – but we might have to agree to differ on this one, Nancy!

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