During the summer, silly season media outlets tend to report on the goofy or frivolous simply because most law courts and government administrations are not in session and everyone’s on holiday. There’s usually just no big (read: important) news.
But the unrelenting grimness of the news lately makes me wish government antics were indeed on holiday indefinitely.
We need other things to focus on, now.
Enter International Day of Charity (IDC) held every Sep. 5. IDC is a UN initiative, coinciding with the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, the Kolkata-based nun awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her work alleviating poverty. Now I’m not holding up the IDC like a twinkly bit of tinsel to distract you for a day of feeling good (or at least slightly less lousy about many of the world’s current affairs). I’m suggesting acting charitably for much longer than that.
The UN urges us to act generously because there is so much wretchedness in the world. Its development officers say that “expressions of solidarity help us in our shared quest to live together in harmony and build a peaceful and sustainable future for all.”
But kindness and empathy is really hard in the face of time, distance and a lack of ideas or money.
What might those ‘expressions of solidarity’ look like? Well, for starters, charity is not just about the rich giving to the poor or member governments sending bags of cash to the UN. Development workers are not all employed in poor countries. (Did you know that Save the Children has projects in First Nations communities in Canada?) Nor are all humanitarian workers only working in far-flung war and disaster zones. They are also responding to immediate crisis needs in urban food banks.
Charity is everyday people helping one another. Charity is us, all of us. It isn’t just those big-name NGOs dashing around in their white Land Cruisers coordinating joint appeals. It’s neighbours helping neighbours or kids helping kids. Think block parties and community centres, or the water jugs you see on the sidewalks around town and the Vietnamese youth who quietly hand out loaves of bread at bus stations or fill neighbourhood bread boxes.
Helping each other creates social bonding and solidarity, strengthens the vibrant fabric of our communities and ultimately makes us all more resilient. The UN believes this charitable impulse resides in every single human being. I believe that too.
This pro-people mindset strikes back at the criminal idiocy of those who — in the face of human suffering — wish to close our borders, abandon refugees, shoot unarmed civilians, set off bombs and ignore abuse in detention centres. Where is all this fear coming from that has pushed so many to such extremes of hysteria and intolerance? It’s because we’ve stopped talking to one another and are too easily goaded into seeing the world as ‘us versus them’.
We accept the simplicity of this Manichean darkness because people are overwhelmed with ugly news. But switching off isn’t the answer. You cannot ignore your own self-humanity. You’re not hopeless and neither are those caught up in circumstances they didn’t choose. But you do have a choice… the choice is acting on our common and shared humanity.
A friend sent me this quote. It’s misattributed to Anne Frank, but regardless of who said it, it’s pretty much perfect.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Dana McNairn is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning non-profit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk youth