Friday, September 07, 2007


Up to my usual insomnia tricks, tonight I stayed up to watch the movie "Beyond Borders" with Angelina Jolie and and Clive Owen. I'm familiar with the reviews that call this flick a dog. Still, for me, it was very powerful on so many levels. If you are not familiar with the movie - the basic premise is summed up HERE.

As I watched the movie I thought about a lot of different things. But what got to me the most was not the scenes of famine and war in Ethiopia. It was not the horror of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It was not the brutality of Chechnya.

It was the landmines.

I first became aware of the seriousness of the problem of landmines back in the early 90's when I participated in a Michigan International Development Outreach Network (MIDEON) conference at Michigan State University.

MIDEON was formed by faculty members from Michigan universities and community colleges who were concerned with teaching international development issues. Rather than present information to the regular student population, they focused on teaching other teachers. They provided a forum to exchange ideas and experiences, sponsor workshops, and promote the idea of development education. The idea was that by planting seeds of awareness into the minds and hearts of educators the impact would be far reaching as those teachers would go on to teach differently from there on.

It worked. The summer institute that I attended had a very powerful affect on how I think and how I teach.

One of the issues we talked about A LOT at that conference was the problem of landmines.

The average American does not usually think a whole lot about landmines. I do. But what have I actually DONE between that long ago training and now? Not nearly enough.

There are so many issues in the world today clamouring for our time, our attention, our money. Save the whales, recycle, stop global warming, plant a tree, the list goes on and on. From the old posters of Smokey the Bear saying "Only YOU can Prevent Forest Fires" to the fight against AIDS to the war on drugs...there are so many social problems it can make a person's head spin.

It's easy to see why some people get to overwhelmed by it all they numb out, become immobilized.

I am reminded of the time my father took all us kids to see Ringling Brother's and Barnum & Baily Three Ring Circus when I was a child. Most of my siblings had a fabulous time. Not me. I was so terribly frustrated. To me, it was awful. If I watched the clowns I missed the bears. If I watched the bears I missed the trapeze lady. If I watched the trapeze lady I missed the dancing horses. If I watched the ...oh, you get the idea. No matter what I focused on, the sense that I was missing out on something truly spectacular just ate away at me. I finally just cried and went to sleep to avoid the total sense of overwhelm and anxiety.

Sometimes, when I try to support worthy causes, I feel much the same way. I believe in microfincance, so I share dollars with Kiva. Every month I also donate dollars to Humanitarian Aid and the Perpetual Education Fund. I give blood to the Red Cross. I help pick up litter along our local highway. I also volunteer my time to help specific individuals in need.

But no matter how much I do, there is so much more that goes undone. Sometimes that truly haunts me.

The idealist in me wants to make a difference, remembering the words of Margaret Mead who said: "Never doubt that a few committed individuals can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

The more pragmatic side of me says to remember the Starfish story, and to take solace in the fact that I DO make a difference to those particular people whose lives I touch.

But sometimes when I remember the burning desire I once had to get involved in the issue of Landmines (or other social causes that caught my passion in my youth) and then face up to how little I've really done I can't help but hang my head in chagrin.

We grow older. Our priorities shift. That's natural, I suppose. Or maybe it's just a cop out.

I guess for me, the challenge is to stay AWAKE and present to the problems around me and continue to reach out and take action in whatever ways I can, instead of going numb with frustration or overwhelm and turning my back on it all as I did at the circus as a child. It's so much more pleasant to focus on pretty things. There is a time and place for that. But it's all a question of balance. And if I'm not willing to give some of my focus, my time, my resources, to the ugly things of this world, then I become part of the problem. How much is enough? That's something each person answers for them self, I suppose. For me...I need to do more.

I just need to remember the words I have posted on my Kiva Lender page - a quote from Edward Everett Hale who said: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

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