In a world that is so diverse and so populous, it can be hard to recognize that we are all part of one constituency. I understand that it can be hard to conceptualize and to comprehend the vast magnitude of our influence and effect on our environment and our society. Thus, categories are born. It is our brain’s way of organizing our environment into digestible groups, that we can process and understand more effectively. In creating such groups, we are able to contextualize ourselves in terms of our place in said groups. We don’t like to associate with those outside of our own category, and that has massive ramifications on others as well as the more tangential connections to our own lives. Our inability to accept others’ problems in tandem with our own will be, and currently is, humanity’s downfall. We need to begin to pay attention to the struggles of others, as their necessities are inherently our necessities as well. We live in a globalized and connected world and to think that problems of others don’t affect us would be foolish.
We brush these monumental and communal problems as someone else’s issue. One that is not our responsibility, one that we take no credit for. This denial comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s within a nation itself, or within the global community. Climate change is a great example of how our own denial of responsibility is directly connected to others’ suffering. We brush off these ground-breaking natural disasters as “someone else’s issue.” Who cares if islands in the Pacific are literally disappearing beneath the lip of the sea? Who cares that wildfires rage in California? If it doesn’t affect you, you don’t care. Only once the problem becomes large enough to affect one’s livelihood does it warrant a response. There are people on the East Coast of the United States that only care about the California wildfires because they degrade the air quality in the Northeast. The wind blows the problems of the west into the east, and thus they are no longer able to enjoy their New England summers.
This issue could not be more apparent in our current moment. The Russia-Ukraine War is an acute example of this international denial, this inability to act in service to others for fear of worsening one’s own position. There are political consequences, risk of all-out nuclear war, and hundreds of other issues that could spawn from direct international involvement in this conflict. It is understandable, and likely even rational, that the leaders of the great countries of our world are hesitant to take firm, and concrete action against Putin. That the risks of taking on a dictator outweigh the rewards.
This argument makes sense, because our actions do matter, but our lack of actions also matter. Saying nothing, or doing nothing can be almost worse than saying something. This grave of utter and complete neutrality is dangerous, and highlights the perils of this kind of denial. It would be foolish to think that the issues in Ukraine are insignificant to the rest of the world. Countless political scholars have argued the parallels that it draws to Taiwan, and the Chinese interest in the outcome of this war. There are likely other examples of how the outcome of this conflict could influence international relations, because it already has. Just because you don’t live in a place of acute suffering does not mean that the messages to gain from such places are not meaningful. It does not mean that they do not carry weight within our own lives.
Another situation similar to Ukraine, is the recent French elections. The defeated Marine Le Pen, a far right-wing candidate for the French presidency, is a supporter of Putin. To be completely honest, I did not know her name until I read a brief article about the consequences her election could bring. I didn’t know who she was, and no one I knew seemed to know either. I thought about the message this would send to the world. Such an election would mean massive diplomatic deterioration, and possibly France’s isolation from NATO. This stress on the delicate web of diplomacy leading back to World War II could break this fragile dynamic. The stress in Europe right now is already painstakingly obvious. Long story short, Marine Le Pen lost the election, and the current president, Emmanuel Macron was reelected, however, by a scarily small margin. We all should care because their problems are our problems. This system of perpetual denial and ignorance is extremely dangerous.
So, I urge everyone to think about how international issues are everyone’s issues. Although the effects may be more acute in another country, the message that the issue sends could mean major things for your own life. Take it upon yourself to reclaim responsibility, and to understand how your life is contextualized in the rest of the world.