When Social Problems Become All Too Common

Confession: I have become jaded.

This being my senior year, I have read, written, and talked about social problems and oppression for years; and, at this point, a lot of the material I receive in class is recycled in a sense. There are nuances and considerations that have to be made, but I see so many of the same stories over and over. This isn’t to say that they get any less gruesome. In “Women: Local/Global Connections,” we’re dealing with the brutalization of women and girls as young as three months old that I can’t begin to imagine.

Half the Sky, a book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which led to a documentary of the same name, has presented detailed stories of people raping, mutilating, abducting, selling, and starving young girls. I noticed about halfway through the book that I am not experiencing the stories the same way that I did before. The moment of, “Oh my goodness, I had no clue!” has passed. The moment of, “Someone has to do something!” has passed. I have reached a point where the things I am reading are not shocking anymore.

I see other people go through this, too. Some huge injustice is revealed to the public. It’s part of the news cycle for a while. People write books and make movies. Donations are given and programs are supported. Everyone wants to go green. Everyone wants to protest against income inequality. Everyone wants to fight human trafficking. Then the shock factor wears off, and we forget. So, how do I maintain the shock factor for myself? How do I keep that energy alive when becoming jaded seems almost inevitable?

I used to think that conversations with like-minded people were what kept me going. Recently, I’ve found that isn’t exactly true. It turns out that conversations with people who aren’t of my same line of thinking are the ones that really keep me impassioned. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone about how transgender people challenge our ideas of gender and present us with an opportunity to liberate ourselves from the oppression of gender roles. She admitted that sometimes she has said things that are ignorant, but she was so open to learning more that it was energizing. Get this: There are people who are willing to learn but just haven’t been reached by people who have the knowledge to give.

What is important now is that I share what I have learned with people who haven’t had that opportunity yet. It’s actually easy to do. I bring up the topics, even though they’re unpopular, because that’s what I’m doing in my daily life. When I leave “Women: Local/Global Connections,” I have readings and assignments that keep me involved. I also share a lot of articles and reports on social media to encourage friends and family to read them, and from time-to-time, I actually see them take an interest. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I remain open to opportunities to learn from other people who have knowledge or perspectives I’m not aware of. But, as important as it is to form communities of activism, it’s just as important to stay connected to people who aren’t quite there yet.

One-on-one conversations might not seem like they do much in the grand scheme of things, but every time a light goes off in someone’s brain that means there’s another person living their life more aware of how other people are living. That shocking awareness can cause lifestyle changes that might seem small but have a great impact. For me, that means questioning what businesses I support and what products I purchase. I buy locally more often than I did before coming to Arcadia (especially when it comes to honey—it doesn’t get better than KG Bees’ cinnamon honey or Truly Pure & Natural’s ginger creamed honey). While I have bought Fair Trade products here and there, I know there’s a lot more available than ever before thanks to my classmate, Kate, who shared what she knew about Fair Trade in class. It feels good to know that things that I use everyday were made available to me by people who were justly compensated. More people should get to have that feeling.