It’s Complicated

With all of the #kony2012 and Invisible Children hubbub and hero worship and criticism and rebuttals (have you ever wondered what a ‘buttal’ is that we could retort it?) it’s enough to make your head spin.
The one thing that it seems everyone in the twittersphere and the blogosphere and hipstersphere can agree on is that IT’S COMPLICATED.
We don’t want it to be. We’d rather have easy answers and tangible results.
We’d rather be seduced.
As my favorite snarky aid blogger (his blog is no longer public access which is why there is no link) put it, “we’ve become totally seduced by the belief that solving the basic problems of the world can be done cheaply and easily.”
And the seducer?
NGOs. Charities that flaunt such irresistible slogans as “ ‘98 cents of your dollar goes directly to beneficiaries’,  ‘your $100 buys a poor family a cow and gets them out of poverty’, or ‘feel good about making a difference while on vacation.’ ”
Saving the world is just one click—and your credit card information—away.
It’s not just Invisible Children.
We’ve fallen head over heels with programs that boast of tangible results, low overhead, and flashy campaigns to end the world’s problems, but the truth is, it’s complicated.
As a staff member of an NGO that writes about the difference our organization is making in the lives of the rural poor, I can’t figure out if I’m the seducer or the seducee (not to be confused with the Sadducees of the New Testament). When I report on the use of grant funds I want to tell funders that we’ve met all of our objectives, that lives are being transformed, that their money is already making a difference. I want to say X number of families no longer live in poverty or have hardships.
But it’s just not true. Sometimes we don’t meet all of our objectives because of drought or economic downturn or political unrest. Sometimes responding to immediate needs or adapting to a rapidly changing environment is just more important. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we learn valuable lessons from our mistakes as well.
This last week I’ve been frustrated with much of the Invisible Children tactics, but I’ve also been impressed with their willingness to engage in conversation. Their willingness to learn from their mistakes. 
If the conversation ends with pitching in $30 to IC and settling back into our self-centered, materialistic ways, we’ve missed the point. If we cynically write off Kony and Uganda and how we can make a difference merely because IC has the marketing prowess to create a movement, we’ve also missed the point.
Unsuspecting or cynical, we haven’t really engaged. That’s what gets me.
In my recent post Sound Bites of Justice, I wrote about the complications of speaking on behalf of the voiceless, wondering if in my own small scale work of marketing and social media advocating is really building up the dignity of those I seek to serve.
This last week the question resurfaced, “are we giving voice to the voiceless or shouting so loudly that even those with a voice are being drowned out?”
I don’t know the answer.
But I’m glad the aid world and the hipster world and the celebrity world are asking it.
In a culture of quick fixes and seduction, that question is something I think we should fall in love with.
For more resources on the Invisible Children controversy check out  Rachel Held Evans’ grace-filled and encompassing post:

To read my post on Solidarity and Advocating for the Voiceless, click here


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