Happy Thanksgiving and How We're Going to Save the World
Well Happy Thanksgiving Americans! Like a true consumer I went out today and sought a store that was open so I could indulge in shopping. OK before you're all completely horrified, LOL, I did go to CVS and that was only because we were having a "cinnamon crisis," as my mother put it. Some of you reading this might be saying "oh come on, you went out on Thanksgiving morning for cinnamon? Get a life." Ha, you try explaining to my extended family why there won't be pecan rolls this year.
So I've been talking about saving the world and all lately, I know. Some of you may think it's total bullshit, but let me assure you I am serious. I mean I know I can't take on the entire planet by myself, obviously, but I think of my friends and family and my Smithies and even those kids at Tufts whose mere existence I sometimes begrudge and think "Oh hell yeah, we can totally save the world. Absolutely no problem."
Why do I think this?
Well. It all started with a guy named Paul Farmer, or more accurately, with a book about a guy named Paul Farmer, which happened to be a book club book. It was one of the single-most inspirational books I've ever read, and I urge anyone reading this post right now to go to your local library and check it out (or if you must, buy it. I am actually going to buy a copy one of these days.) It would take me forever to get into the nitty gritty detail of the book so suffice it to say that Paul Farmer is a man with a huge vision. Just a guy with some friends who happened to be in the right place and the right time with just the right backgrounds to make his world vision work. In reading this book, I came to a few conclusions about myself, which then led to my "world vision."
First of all, I realized that as a human been who has compassion for others, I can make a difference. That's the basic bottom line. Are you a compassionate human? If you are, you already have about 75% of what you need to change the world. Then I applied the theory on a more personal level. What are my special skills? Well, I am a scientist, or more accurately a biologist, soon to be a biologist with a concentration in conservation and the environment. OK, fine. Then I think "so I want to save disappearing species, habitats and ecosystems." Lofty goals, indeed, but this is not unusual for your average conservation biologist. Now I think to myself "If I have compassion for my fellow human beings, how can my personal goals help those in need? How may my personal goals and ideal negatively and positively impact people?" This required more elaborate thinking, but I assure you, you can come up with these answers really easily if you put your mind to it, especially if you take the mind-sucking void that is public transportation to and from work every day.
I realized that a lot of habitats that need intensive work are those in developing countries: the rainforests and savannas of Africa, steppes in China, the Amazon basin, etc. So if I ever took my work to the global scale, these are the areas that need a lot of help. Often when I am reading conservation biology literature, I don't see people mentioned. It's wildlife management this, resource allocation that, but what about the people?? I know from my brief life in Africa that people literally live against the fence of national parks, poach to feed their kids, hunt in parks, graze their cattle on conservation land. Why? Because if they don't, they'll die. LITERALLY THEY WILL DIE. The more I thought about this the more I realized that I don't want to be the biologist who comes in and says "F8ck your kids, I'm here to save lions/elephants/rhinos/pandas, you can't use the resources here anymore." Why? Because I care too much. By some random stroke of luck, I was born in America to a middle class family and live an incredibly comfortable and privileged life. Who the hell am I to come into a place and tell people what they can and can't do to survive? It's wrong, and I'm not going to do it. I realized too that it'd be pointless. Why can't the Kenya Wildlife Service prevent people from doing XYZ? Because people don't care that they're taking the elephant's water because they're thirsty, people don't care that they're killing a zebra for meat because their kids are hungry. Conservation, while never pointless, is somewhat futile when people are in such desperate situations. This being said, I realized that until you have people who are living a healthy lifestyle, we will not have effective conservation strategies. It just won't happen. When I think of the situations I saw in Kenya, I know people would have thought differently about the wildlife if they had had water and food and basic necessities. No one over there is asking for a Mercedes Benz, people just want the basic things we Americans think of as rights, not privileges.
Whew. So that's my grand vision. My ultimate goal, to save the world by promoting conservation through public health. The vision is by no means unique, and it's already happening in countries throughout the world, including this one, in which my Smithie friend is intimately involved, and this great one, too. This is how it's going to start, one organization at a time, one country at a time. I believe that we're living in an era where very few things are impossible, and I swear we can save the world if we just get enough people on board.
"But Allison" you say "I am not a scientist, I am not a person who has/cares about a world vision, what the heck am I supposed to do?"
Oh my friends, I have so many ideas for you.
First of all, forget about all the shit surrounding people and just see them for who they are, a fellow human. Laugh if you want, but you have to do that for this to work. I put specific emphasis on politics here too. I don't give a shit if you're a democrat or republican or in the rainbow party or whatever because that DOES NOT MATTER. I hate to sound disillusioned, but I don't think there are too many politicians out there who really give a shit about anything any more except power, and you all know how much I love Barak Obama, but do I think he'd read this blog and be inspired? Hell NO, so stop thinking bad thoughts about people's political beliefs and affiliations and politics and the president because we're not going to be able to count on them to help us save the world. Maybe Oprah, LOL, but not any politicians, so let's drop that issue right now. Done? Excellent.
So know you've stripped yourself down to just a barebones person right? It's just you in the flesh. Now you're job is to go and find some small thing you can do for another person. You might think it is the most petty insignificant crap that you've ever done, like donating some food to the local food pantry or knitting a scarf for charity, or even donating blood. I don't care what it is, just do it. And don't just do it once and say "Oh yay, I changed the world today." No, make it part of your ideology, part of your persona.
Don't let the smallness of your act make you think that 1. it was insignificant or 2. it can't be bigger and better next time. Look at Paul Farmer - he was just one guy and he decided that he could take on the world. Why the hell did he think that he could do that? Because the people that mattered never told him he couldn't, and when people did tell him it was impossible, he set out to prove them wrong. I need you all to think that way for me. I am telling you right now that whatever your idea is, you CAN do it. Why? because you've already set your mind to it.
Ok do you still need convincing that it's worth getting off of your ass and doing something good? Do you think this entire post is total bullshit and a handful of people can't change the world for the better? We already know it takes only a few to make it a really nasty place, so this is why it's important to really believe you can make a positive change. I don't like to say "look at me look at me I am sooo special!" but this personal example is the best one I can come up with right now. When my Kenyan friend Mboya lost his job, he had no money to send his sister to school. I wanted to pay for her to go to school. Cynics said "you're soft, what difference does it make if one African kid does or doesn't go to school?" (not even thinking how horrified and put out they'd be if someone suggested that their kid not go to school one year because, oh the taxes we collected just weren't enough to support your child.) Well I think it makes a big difference, and this is because so much lies in our unrealized potential. I think it's the responsibility of all of us global citizens to invest in the future - and Mumbua Musau is a part of our future. How am I to know what kind of person this girl may grow up to be? What if she's brilliant? What if she's the next Wangari Maathai? What if she cures AIDS or cancer? Or what if she just grows up to be amongst the next generation of girls who want to save the world? So many people would say "it's not worth the money to send her to school" to me, I think it's not worth the risk of NOT sending her to school.
This is how I need you all to think (just like me, I'm BRAINWASHING YOU!! hahahah no seriously) you need to think that the risk of not helping is far greater than the energy and expense and effort OF helping. We're living in a Global Village, and we're all neighbors, so act like it. If we all put our minds to this, saving the world might really be effortless. So I ask you this Thanksgiving to be grateful for all that life has given you, and to think of how you might use these gifts to make a larger impact on the world. I want my kids to grow up in a better world, where people are more passionate and conscious of each other, where people care about others they've never met, where people believe that it doesn't have to be a place of the "haves" and the "have nots" of "us" and "them." This change starts with us. Let's just do it.