Zooming in or zooming out

Ugandan districts affected by Lords Resistance...

Image via Wikipedia

Last week, the video Kony2012 went viral, quickly gathering more than 60 million hits. It also stirred a controversy. Some believe it is an important step in rescuing the Invisible Children of Uganda who have been kidnapped and enslaved by a cruel dictator for a generation. Others are skeptical.

It made me wonder about the spectacle of problems that face our world and about our enlarged awareness of them. Does awareness create solutions?

Problems are easy to find. They are in Africa, Korea, Cambodia, closer to home in Appalachia and in big American cities. Unquestionably, it is valuable when modern communication throws a spotlight on them, but while it may touch our sense of justice, it limits our personal involvement.

Look at it this way.  If I were to go to my garbage can and punch open a trash bag that had simmered in the sun for days, I’d be assaulted by a putrid, oozing mess. Close up, I would be compelled to do one of two things: get away or clean it up. If, on the other hand, I watched my neighbor down the street do the same thing, the stench would not be immediate enough for me to act.

Zooming out, examining problems from afar allows us to inspect them without the pressure of our own personal experience. To motivate us, most of us need something more compelling than awareness. Although we all have a level of social conscience, distance from a problem makes it easier to ignore glaring problems. Collectively, the world can watch and emote about the plight of Uganda’s Invisible Children, but rescuing them, always — always — involves someone squaring off with their dilemma face to face.

Helping from afar works to a point. After 911, thousands of American donated blood. After the fact, however, we learned that this “solution,” while noble and well intentioned, missed the mark. Those who really impacted the problem were those standing next to the hurting.

Zooming out also means that we may become aware of a problem, but we have less oversight and less responsibility for solving it. Collectively being horrified at an injustice like the one in Uganda does little to alleviate the suffering. Worldwide gasps don’t rescue children.

So what do we do when we’re so far from a problem that we can’t really influence a solution? The creators of Kony2012 suggest we send money. Okay, I can do that. Sometimes that helps, as it did after last year’s tornado outbreak in Virginia. Contributions to the Red Cross helped John McNamara (’05) help those in the disaster areas. But unless someone close to the problem acts, all the money and publicity in the world won’t help.

So what are we to do? We find a problem that we can touch. From last week’s Daily News Record we learned that homelessness in children is a growing concern in Harrisonburg.

The closer we stand to a problem, the greater the possibility that we can understand it and fashion a solution that really works. Any doctor will tell you that a wound heals from the inside out. That’s why boils are lanced and why sutures are only temporary. Social ills, political ills, governmental and institutional ills all must be lanced, cleaned out and allowed to heal. A wrong solution, like a bandage, only covers up a problem. Few wounds heal without direction intervention.

So sometimes we need a closer experience. We need to zoom in on problems. That’s what many JMU students did last week participating in Alternative Spring Break. They zoomed in. One group of students traveled to a town in Appalachia where they saw significant community problems — and it put them in the face-to-face position to help solve them.

The best solutions are those devised by those most immediately impacted by the problem and those who understand the problem best. This is what Daniel Morgan (’10) learned in Uganda. Alexandra Robbins (’07) and Daniel Haney (’07) learned this in Cambodia. Annie Long (’12) and Elise Benusa (’13) learned this when they met and worked with some of the “invisible” children. Any number of our Be the Changers would agree that solving problems requires zooming in.

During World War II, the world toppled another dictator. Perhaps Kony is next. But it wasn’t American outrage or even the purchase of American war bonds that brought down Hitler, although both helped. It was the soldiers running onto the beachheads at Normandy and those marching into Berlin.

It was those who zoomed in, not out.

To learn more about John McNamara, Daniel Morgan, Annie Long, Elise Benusa, Alexandra Robbins and Daniel Haney, click on the links below or visit the Be the Change webpage at http://jmu.edu/bethechange for many more examples.

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to Zooming in or zooming out

  1. imjared says:

    pretty fantastic post and interesting analogy. nice work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: