Suffering from socialconscienceitis?

ImageI’m having one of those weeks where my social conscience has been inflamed – socialconscienceitis. Everywhere I look I see causes, movements, hashtags, documentaries, etc, that seem to be demanding my attention. It started last week when I was in Perth for a conference. I’ve never been to Perth before. It’s a lovely city, beautiful gardens and cityscape, and because I was staying just off the street where all the designer boutiques are it was hard not to be seduced by the sensual hum of money that surrounds the place. Nice cars, beautiful people, etc. I did not fit in there, but I did spend a day sending FF texts along the lines of “pack your bags honey, we’re moving to Perth”. But as is the usually the case with me, I see money and I immediately start to wonder who’s missing out. We’ve all heard about the incredibly high wages and the growth that the mining boom has given WA, but not everybody is getting a piece of that and as the cost of living skyrockets, what happens to those who can’t keep up?

Then I came home and like half of all Australian women (and not just Australian!) who are active on Twitter I got caught up in the #destroyingthejoint phenomenon that started last weekend when our ole’ mate Alan Jones made some bullshit comment on air about women like Julia Gillard and Christine Nixon destroying the joint. Hey presto – social movement. It spread like herpes and it was a whole lot of fun to read women proudly tweeting about the havoc they and their vaginas were going to wreak – just as soon as they were done with the washing, the housework, the parenting, the partnering, and their paid jobs, that is. All this industriousness is clearly a sign that women are hell-bent on destroying everything that is good about our society! But of course it got me thinking anew about feminism, social activism, and how much good we can actually do from behind a laptop.

Fast forward a couple of days and I’m sobbing my way through episodes one and two of Go Back To Where You Came From – the reality tv show SBS screened the week I was in Perth, where the premise is that they take people on the journey of a refugee, and open their eyes to the misery that might cause someone to jump on a leaky boat to try and seek asylum in Australia. It is shocking. The sheer scale of the devastation and the poverty and the misery and the despair and the grief that is out there being experienced in the world right now as I sit in my comfortable lounge-room and write this, is overwhelming. You could see it on the faces of the six people who were participating in the show and I felt it with a visceral intensity.

There was one particular exchange between Imogen Bailey and Michael Smith (whose heartless callousness in the first episode of the show had me seething with rage) where she asked him if he really thought ‘we’ (Australia, society, the world) were doing enough to help. This is a question I ask myself all the time. How can I do my bit? Is it pointless to try when the problem is so immense, so seemingly impossible to solve? There are literally millions of people in the world who would sacrifice a limb for one hot meal a day, and here I am with every comfort available to me. I work in research administration, and I tell myself almost daily that I’m working ‘on’ the system, as much as in it, by doing what I can to facilitate research that could one day change someone’s life. I donate money when I can, and support causes in other ways if I feel I can but there is of course more I could do. I’m often torn between thinking that I’m doing more harm to my sanity than good by watching the news every night, paying close attention to the conflict and misery in the world, and not turning the TV off when ‘images that may disturb viewers’ are shown. I know people who, quite legitimately, decide to just ‘switch off’ and stop reading/watching the news because it’s too distressing and they feel helpless.

Something Catherine Deveney said on Go Back the other night – I can’t actually remember what she said, but it struck me and gave me a moment of clarity. And that is, surely our responsibility as human beings is to keep caring, keep watching, keep striving and trying, no matter how hard it gets, or how painful? If my piddly little donations and my constant trying can improve even one person’s life, then maybe that’s enough? If life has infinite, immeasurable value, then one human life is worth as much of my compassion as the millions of lives currently languishing in refugee camps around the world.

So until I get some kind of light bulb moment where inspiration strikes and I think ‘ah ha! That’s my life’s purpose’ it’s probably going to be business as usual. I’ll keep crying through shows like Go Back to Where You Came From, I’ll continue to think about the social side effects of things like the mining boom, and I’ll keep joining in with gusto with social media campaigns of all sorts. It might be a little bit taxing, but it’s not going to kill me.

Does anyone else have clarity on how they can be most effective? How do you choose to ‘do your bit’?