Thursday, September 24, 2009

Doesn't Matter

Remember when Peter Jennings was doing all those reports in Ethiopia? Or was it Catie Couric in Kenya, doesn’t matter. A story I remember from that is of just one of those hungry kids. There was a major famine at the time and somebody decided it was news. Children are always dying somewhere. I don’t mean to be harsh about that, it’s just a fact. It’s unusual when people take note of it. We’ll take days playing out the story of a plane crash, but just as many people die every few minutes of hunger, but that is not news.

This is not a digression, but let’s get back to the one kid.

I don’t remember his name, but somebody did. Some couple, watching those programs sitting in their nice living room in New Jersey or Minnetonka or wherever it was, doesn’t matter, saw one face and got attached to it. They went to great lengths to find that one kid and bring him back to America, so he could grow up healthy. I can remember the video of him arriving at the airport, kind of a stunned look with his jaw hanging down, wondering what all the fuss was about.

For many people that is a heart warming story. For me it’s a little disturbing. For a few it’s just dumb, but we’ll put those people in the “doesn’t matter” bin with the other stuff. It’s disturbing because of the expense of tracking down just one kid. I have spent many hours fighting hunger and I know of one organization in particular, Kids Against Hunger, that can feed people for 25 cents a meal. Just one of the trips that couple made to Africa could have bought a lot of food.

So how do I get something good out of this ridiculous effort that did more to make a couple of suburbanites feel good than it did for a hungry country? The first step is to think of all of the times that someone has said, “If I can help just one person…” and fill in whatever cause that they are working on. This is commonly heard from people who have difficult jobs working with young people who are destroying their own lives and bringing down others with them. It can often seem like you are not making any difference. In those moments of despair saying, “If I can just save the life of one kid, and have them grow up and raise their own healthy children, it will have been worth it.”

Okay, they did that, they saved one kid. The second thing I would love to know, how did their friends and neighbors react? David Sedaris tells a story of two competing suburban families who start giving things to the homeless and bragging about it in their Christmas letters. Eventually they are giving away their own organs just to do their neighbors one better. Among the friends and neighbors of our child saving couple, I imagine the ratios of “didn’t care”, “were inspired”, and “found it disturbing” reflected the general population anywhere.

Is that bad? No. If you are disturbed by it, then you understand the issues, and you are probably involved with something because you know why tracking down one kid doesn’t make sense. If you don’t care, you may be beyond hope, or some other heart warming story will have to cross your path to make any difference. If you were inspired, that’s awesome, I hope you find something to do that does matter.

You know, I wonder what happened to that kid from Ethiopia. I should try to track him down.

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