Press Pause and Applaud
A week ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article in the New York Times titled “The Best News You Don’t’ Know.” Therein he describes the reality that “on our watch, we have a decent chance of virtually wiping out ills that have plagued humanity for thousands of generations, from illiteracy to the most devastating kind of hand-to-mouth poverty.” In short, Kristof argues that we should pause to “acknowledge the greatest gains in human well-being in the history of our species.” He is careful that we should not become complacent in our reverie, but instead build on the momentum we have to continue “our efforts to accelerate what may be the most important trend in the world today.”
One could say that Kristof is starry-eyed and idyllic in his outlook; that thought certainly crossed my mind. Upon closer inspection, however, I came to realize that Kristof is too experienced to be dazzled by anything less than what a reasonable individual would call progress. He has reported on massacres in South Sudan, worked in concentration camps in Myanmar, and covered stories in India. As a backpacking law student in the 80s, he encountered blind beggars – actors and actresses on a stage of “gut-wrenching poverty.” This is not to say that Kristof is an authority on the topic of global progress just because he spent time in developing nations. Instead, this serves to highlight that he has experience with what developing regions of the world used to be like. Experience that many others have, and can relate to.
Importantly, Kristof uses his initial encounters with the developing world as a lens through which he currently views global challenges. In 1981, 44 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; today, 10 percent of the world’s population occupies this realm. Up until the 1960s, the majority of adults around the world were illiterate; today, 85 percent of adults are literate globally. The fact remains that there have been drastic changes in the past twenty years, and certainly over Kristof’s lifetime. So why should we not give credit where credit is due? Why should we not praise the efforts of our humanitarians even if these efforts are only making (seemingly) small dents in global epidemics?
One such effort that deserves praise is the actions of Finnish-Syrian father-of-six, Rami Adham, who takes toys to children in war-torn Syria. Adham “packed hundreds of soft toys” and Barbie’s into his 70kg (155lb) hand-luggage and flew from Finland to Turkey before walking 16 hours on foot through the mountainous border region to cross into Syria. On his trips, Adham provides food through the Finnish-Syrian Association he founded for relief. He interacts with the children briefly while handing them stuffed teddy bears or dolls: “’They are the little heroes that represent Syria’s future,’” he remarked. “The kids there are not afraid of death anymore. They wish to die instead of being injured – they say when you die you don’t have to worry any more.’”
Yes, Adham is a humanitarian.
Yes, he likely comes from a place of privilege such that he is able to travel to Syria and donate his time and resources.
Yes, the impact he makes is short-lived and relatively unsustainable.
But does this make his impact any less significant? Is Adham wrong to identify toys as the currency for a child’s smile?
Perhaps Adham is living the advice that Kristof espouses.
Adham and Kristof have something in common: if something can be done to soothe a wound, they believe that we should do that thing, whether that thing be handing out toys to children or giving a pat on the back to encourage another day’s hard work.
This is not about trying to instill in us a false sense of security; instead, I believe that taking a moment to pause is healthy. Even needed. We must recognize and celebrate the efforts of humanitarians, public health workers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, janitors and the many others who work day-in and day-out to leave the world a little better than they found it.
There is no question that much work remains to be done. If we acknowledge how far we have come, however, we provide the fuel to feed the fire and continue on.
Sharp, Heather. "Syria War: The Toy Smuggler Bringing Bags of Joy to Children." BBC News. September 28, 2016. Accessed October 04, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37481761?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/45d1e6e1-6001-4449-801d-ba85eed04025/syrian-civil-war.
Kristof, Nicholas. "The Best News You Don’t Know." The New York Times. September 22, 2016. Accessed October 04, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/the-best-news-you-dont-know.html?rref=collection/column/nicholas-kristof.