The Invisible World
I met a friend this summer who works north of Madagascar. As much as I try to be a globally informed citizen, I realized that I know very little about Madagascar other than its placement on a map as “that big island east of the main African continent.” Because he lives and works there, I asked my friend if he had any thoughts about where I could keep up with Madagasi news. Occasionally the BBC features stories, but I would have better luck if I read French. Well, today, he posted this article about Madagascar written by National Geographic (and seriously, what’s not to like about National Geographic news stories? They always have some of the best pictures!).
But as I read the article, it pointed towards some complex realities in living in parts of the world we never hear about. In a word, Madagascar is a mineral-rich nation where a sizable portion of the population live on less than a dollar a day. Why should anyone care about a poor island nation essentially consuming itself with slash-and-burn agriculture and an economy built on exotic wood exports?
It is easy for people living distant from the situation to assert a sort of parental attitude when exposed to the facts. Judgment always tends to be relatively straight-forward. Preserve the forests, enact stronger penalties for illegal foresting activities, end slash-and-burn agriculture and cultivate stronger cropping practices. Yet, with the exception of the fourth activity, most of these “must-do” statements come from a very limited understanding of context and an even more limited position of ability to assist.
We generally have “must-do” statements regarding the fairly invisible world of developing countries, assuming that mere assertion will make things true. So often we tell someone to do something as a way to remove ourselves from the process. So often we tell someone to do something as a way of attempting to speak “sense” into a situation we do not have to live. So often we tell someone to do something as a way to keep the true situation invisible.
And, then, if we permit the invisible to become visible, the question then becomes “What are we to do?” seeking answers that honor and affirm the common humanity of the people present. So, perhaps a big part of practicing our humanity involves opening our eyes to the world around us, both in the large nearly-anonymous consideration of the “global village” and in the immediate sense of our backyards, front yards and workplaces.