Photo credit: Allison Joyce
Last week, this article was published in the UK's Guardian, entitled The living hell of young girls enslaved in Bangladesh's brothels.
Our production partner, Basha, shared the link on their Facebook page with the following caption:
"This article gives you a glimpse of just how girls are broken down until they believe they feel they have no option but to stay in the brothel. We are committed to expanding our partnerships with non profits such as Friends of Basha to provide women a way out. And when you purchase Basha products, you make a way for us to hire more women. Articles like this fire me up to fight for freedom for these women. What about you?"
For me, here is the honest answer to the last question:
No, it does not fire me up. It horrifies me. I want to close my eyes and ears, to stay ignorant, to be blissfully unaware of this reality for women just like me. I want to get in bed and hide under covers and cry. I want to pretend that I do not live in a world where there is a country of 165 million people and 1 in 5 girls is married before her 15th birthday (as the article states). I want to have a clear conscience about what I know and what I do about it. I want to go to the movies, guilt-free. That is my unfiltered, true response.
These feelings certainly reveal my privilege as a non-vulnerable, wealthy, healthy, independent woman who grew up in an intact, loving family, in a culture that vaunts freedom and equality. No situation is perfect, and there are broken systems here, I know that. But, I've had it good, as one (with poor grammar) might say. Very good.
So, the privilege to decide what I do about that information, and my feelings about it... that in itself makes me feel gross and embarrassed. On the other hand, this is the life I live! This is the place I am.
The balm for this a few years ago was the hashtag #firstworldproblems, which both pointed the finger AND relieved the pressure of privileged guilt. But, the reality is: I live in the "first world", and my daily life includes an assumption of education for my children, and free time, and no fear (for them or I) of a financially desperate relative tricking us into a sentence of slavery.
Here's where I have landed. There are some people who can build their life's work on the identification, illumination, and eradication of the world's sufferings. People like Corinne Redfern (who wrote the aforementioned article), The NYTimes' Nicholas Kristof, or Basha's operating director, Robin — who is the one who stated above that these articles fire her up —, can go deep into the mire and get HARD work done. And they can get up the next day, do it again, and somehow not get crushed.
I stand in awe of that, because it is definitely not me. I learned in my late teens/early twenties that I am too prone to despair and desolation to have this kind of explicit pain as a part of my daily work. I can hardly read an article like this in one sitting. (In the case of the recent lawyers' border facilities interviews, it took me several sittings to get through a Q&A).
It baffles me that this is possible for anyone, but I've come to a peace that this special quality is not one that I possess.
SO, people like me... what can I do, what do I do? It probably seems from the outside that because I run dignify, I have checked all of my social justice boxes, and I am way ahead of the game. But, I assure you, my daily life looks very much like yours!
I don't read the news, hardly ever. When my newsfeed is too bleak or an article like that is too subsuming under the "everything is terrible" umbrella, I turn it off, I close it, I walk away. If knowing is going to result in overwhelm & paralysis, then I think that a bit of ignorance is ok. In my not knowing, I can actually get a lot more done.
As I was writing this, someone sent me a link to this article where a writer recounts his encounter with Mother Teresa. Her question, — “Young man, can I ask you what you do to help the poor?” — brought hot shame to his cheeks and his sense of self. Her smiling response to his admission (nothing) was,
“Everyone can do something.”
Not everyone can do the same things, but everyone can do something.
So, what is one something that you can choose to do?
We're all different, and I've come to a place where I feel (mostly) at peace with my differences. You can be committed to action, and it doesn't mean you have to live in Bangladesh or report on sex trafficking!
Give money, call a friend, cultivate compassion... What is one thing you can commit to?