Last week, I watched as my downtown got taken over by a rioters. I was glued to my tv watching quite helplessly the events of the evening unfold less than a 15 minute drive from the residential area I live in. Where both my husband and I work and where my daughter’s day care is.
It started with a burning truck and quickly escalated to more fires, fights, smashed windows, destruction and looting. I felt helplessness, sadness, anger, frustration, disbelief… A whole gamut of emotions. And if you reread my tweets from that night they all are emotional reactions. Instant gut reactions, many of which I would likely take back if I could. Many of which were not thought out and quite frankly were not logical or rational.
The next few days saw the public manifestation of this gut reaction. There were the people propelled forward by anger that felt we needed to publicly shame and name the perpetrators. Tumblr blogs and Facebook pages popped up to out the participants that were foolish enough to brag about what they had done, or to just simply do it in front of many, many cameras. And there were the people that felt a great sadness and wanted to show the world that Vancouver was not “like that.” So they came downtown and helped clean up. They signed the wall at HBC. They cried and shook their heads at what had happened. I went to visit both Facebook and Tumblr pages of all types. I think I saw the best of people and the worst of people on those pages. (I also visited downtown and I was proud of the mostly young people that came out to help clean up the destruction.)
But the fact is these are our emotional gut reactions to the situation. We want justice! We want to feel hope again! We want to claim our city back!
What I keep hoping now is that people will calm down and start to ask the important questions like… why did this happen? why did average (mostly) local young men do this? what does this say about our society? what can we do to try to prevent this from happening again? And I don’t mean more police, faster responses, better training. I mean… what can we do as a society to help prevent this from happening again.
I am writing this blog post here because I see an amazing parallel between the emotional gut reactions people had for the riot with both international development (and for that matter many other aspects of our life). So many decisions we make are based on emotional gut reactions. Especially when it comes to situations that seem so horrible and that we feel we have no control over.
For example, look at how people choose charities to donate to….
We choose charities that use heart wrenching photos of children…. send this fly covered gaunt child to school.
We choose charities that alleviate our consumerist guilt…. buy one pair of trendy shoes, send a pair to Africa.
We choose charities that feed on our desire to shop… feel like buying your mom something, why not buy a goat for someone in her name?
We choose charities that our favourite Hollywood celebrity supports… send mosquito nets to Africa because its cool.
We choose charities based on emotion because that is the easiest way to deal with the world’s woes. Because, to be honest, in order to affect real change we need to a) actually find out what good change is and b) actually change. And both of those take some amount of effort.
Can I provide a ray of hope in this blog post? Can I suggest small steps to change? The next time you feel an emotional desire to contribute to a charity (say some one stops you on the street or say with the next natural disaster)… please take a breath and commit to doing just 30 minutes of research before deciding. Read a little of Good Intentions are Not Enough or the Give Well blog. Start to educate yourself and ultimately make a rational, logical decision. And take pride in the fact that you made a decision with your heart and your head.