DO something

22 Jul

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This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).


21 Responses to “DO something”

  1. Stephanie White 22 July, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I agree, and FTR, I might qualify as both a ‘mom’ blogger and a ‘development’ blogger, though I don’t think I’d ever go to a convention, especially not one in Las Vegas.

    I think what happens with non-professional westerners is that they figure it’s a matter of individual knowledge and know-how and/or material goods. They figure some can-do spirit (which they have loads of) can fix the problem. Problems are always seen as being located locally, which seems so fixable, rather than globally and institutionally (and even ideologically), which is where the real difficulty lies. Yeah…frustrating.

  2. momentoftime 22 July, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    Reminds me of an old Sufi story. Basically a Sufi reduced his teaching down to two injunctions for his students: “Don’t just sit there, do something” and “Don’t just do something, sit there”. Knowing which one to do when is wisdom.

    Good post. Thanks.

  3. maria 22 July, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    hello Stranger,

    (I actually dont know your name, even though I follow your blog closely and have read all of Disastrous Passion so far). (hum also because I like how it sounds)

    Again a good post worth reading (BTW I’we spread the word about Tales from the Hood in some Linked In development aid groups, so they can read your post about Aid not fixing anything…:-))

    For some reason (professionalization of the aid industry?) your theme today reminded me of a frustrating conversation I had with a friend the other day. She’s working for the Big Pharma, she hates to have to do it although wil never recognize it, (she wanted to stay “pure ” and remain in academia…)
    So, she was saying that when you work in a non for profit, you should work with low salaires, because these institutions dont make/produce money. But if you use the same skills , if you have the same position in a private for profit company, then you can ask for more. Personally I was quite shocked at this discourse, because, do our skills depend on who’s paying? do our skills depend on the ethics they serve? Does for instance a neurosurgeon who has invested 15 years of her adult life in studying and training before going to operate in war zones, does she have to accept being paid 600 euros by some medical charity to go and work in dangerous conditions, without a private life, just because the charity is a non for profit? Next question that arises is, whats the level of profesionalization of big NGOs when skilled and highly qualified professionals are valued the equivalent price of a student in summer job back in their home countries? So the work is worth less because the employer is not making any profit out of it? the higher the ethical grounds the lower the economic worth? what is this crazyness?
    This i very scary for me, and I’d like to have your views on it, if you have insights to share

  4. Martha Cook 22 July, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Clap.Cap.Clap. (and I took no offense as a mom and a blogger)

    The urge to connect and to have purpose are real drives, straight from the human spirit. For connection, no need to go to Bangladesh. Try looking into the eyes of the homeless man on the corner and ask him how his day is going. To let him know he is not invisible certainly will make a difference.

    Connection is a very real need, one that should be celebrated, as an antidote to the seductive focus on differences that divide us (Democrats v Republicans, illegal immigrants v citizens, Christian v Muslim, prolifers v pro choicers, aid workers v “do somethingers”)

    We just need to tease out these positive motives from unrealistic desires to fix global problems. It takes knowledge and self-reflection. Kinda like good parenting.

  5. Carol Jean Gallo 22 July, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Brilliant as usual. Was just having a conversation with a would-be do-gooder about Save Darfur yesterday in which I made the exact same point.

  6. afraidofsewing 22 July, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    I generally agree with your comments but in Heather Armstrong’s case, she wasn’t there to do anything other than drum up funding and highlight the situation. I know it’s called slum tourism but it’s a need to get attention and funding for the organizations.

    I’d have a bigger problem if she went over there trying to offer advice or do actual development work.

  7. Marianne 23 July, 2011 at 1:45 am #

    I guess Heather Armstrong is a celebrity – and in that sense this is similar to Angelina Jolie visiting UNHCR camps.

    I have a friend, a well-read blogger, who has just been flown to Kenya by an advocacy organisation that wants her to blog about her trip. I’m glad it is her because she is smart, thoughtful, discerning and knows what she is good at (photographing beauty in any setting) and what she is not (an aid professional).

    We are going to see more and more of this. It’s the new kind of celebrity. Maybe the difference is that we can engage with the celebrities more because they are bloggers like us?

  8. Mara 23 July, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    You write: “Just because you won’t be slapped with a malpractice suit if you get it wrong (although I do actually believe that day is coming) doesn’t mean it’s okay to “just do something” in order to feel good…”

    Can you elaborate a bit about this imminent day of malpractice suits for botched aid projects? The American obsession with and unpleasantness of lawsuit culture aside, I would be interested to hear your thoughts about where things are going with more formalized mechanisms of accountability for NGOs, even ones that aren’t recipients of large-scale grants.

  9. malche 23 July, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I agree. My husband always tells a story from his years in Timor Leste to which this post reminded me of. He tells me that Timor was full of well meaning people with absolutely no idea of how to help and, in many cases, just “wanting to help”and wasting resources and energy in useless results. His most famous anecdote is that of a guy who had set up an NGO and was raising funds to” teach Timorese people to raise chicken so as to be self-sufficient”, without even caring to look around and figure out that raising chicken was what they had been doing all their lives…

  10. Amelia 25 July, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Agree with the malpractice suits concept… it’s coming down the tunnel towards aid agencies as they are being held accountable by people for messing about in their lives. I just hope that it is the ‘beneficiaries’ themselves that do the accountability and not those really helpful ‘no win, no claim’ lawyers who bring the lawsuits. (Funnily enough, one of those just rang us up to day doing marketing!).

  11. RS 25 July, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    [By way of context, let me say that I teach English Lit. at a high school in the American Midwest…]

    OMG. this post reminds me why I do not read your blog more often–mostly because it produces the kind of jaw clenching, stomach-churning, lining dissolving acid, descent into profanity laced invective that, in my humble opinion, is the only sensible (or at least self protective) response to such unmitigated dumb-assery, now so rampant among the “well intentioned.” interestingly enough, the american people (and I dare say moms in particular) are currently quite up in arms over tenured teachers across the public system who have taken much the same attitude. apparently getting it wrong is really only acceptable for *other* people’s children…

    I do have to wonder, though, if this “do something” line of reasoning isn’t the slightly addled cousin–you know, the one with mouth crusties and a rolling eye who’s been wearing the same underpants for the last 4 days–of the sturdier american perspective that the only shame is in “not trying…” isn’t this line virtually laced into our colostrum?! americans can’t stand the thought that there might possibly arise a situation to which a “can do” attitude just isn’t the answer and we expect to be rewarded, starting at a very early age, just for “making an attempt.” grade inflation, anyone?! am I on to something here, or is this merely a flaccid attempt to contextualize the untenable?

  12. Brigid 25 July, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Thanks for the shout-out. And Heather is a very, very funny writer who I happily recommend following. Very well versed in poop, and who doesn’t need more insight into that topic?

  13. Arianna Briganti 2 August, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    to all those who think or say just like Cara ‘even if you’re doing it wrong” YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING!’ I would suggest to bear in mind the phrase by Larry Minear & Thomas Weiss : ‘DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, STAND THERE’. in light of the complexities of development intervention a more helpful and wise prescription for ‘us’-the development professionals- would be to think and re-think more than twice before rushing into intervention, and to figure out a better response rather than causing even more damages. Is it really so difficult to understand that what developers do ( or are supposed to do) requires specialist skills and not a bunch of ‘improvisator’ overwhelmed by guilt?


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