Foreign Policy Blogs

*Doing* – When it Matters Most

What is the human instinct when tragedy strikes outside of your immediate circle?  (I use the term ‘circle’ quite loosely and encourage self definition).

For the past two weeks, I’ve been in keen observation mode.  Watching Anderson Cooper on CNN, reading various and varied thoughts on Haiti in my Google Reader, and monitoring the various fundraising and support initiatives taking place.  I’ve listened to stories of miracles, of heartbreak, of flight and of entrenched resolve to rebuild.  In my work and at home, I’ve heard comments ranging from “we should adopt” to “help those at home”,  from “I want to do more” to “I don’t know what to do”, and from “I can’t stop watching” to “that’s enough now”.

It’s much.  It’s heavy.  And for the most part, there is little that we can tangibly, actually, with-our-two-hands *do*.  For a human, I think that is confusing and I think it is frustrating.

Assuring a donor that a financial contribution will be the *most* effective thing to do isn’t easy.  For the donor, its a moment of realization that they need to give without ego – the realization that they many never hear how their gift was spent, will ever know the exact outcomes, or may never hear thank you.  For the recipient organization, the onus lies in their duty of stewardship – to put the gift the best use possible, to be humbled by support from a donor from a faraway place, and to be grateful to not be going it alone.

A food drive is not the answer.  And yet if our best action is to give money, it’s been inspiring to watch the power of new technology – allowing us to pool our networks and relationships to create telethons, fundraising events, and sharing stories – within a matter of days.  While we may not have our hands on the grounds – our hands are indeed at work.

What is our immediate instinct when we can not *do* anything?  Perhaps, the first step is to redefine *do* – and to assess whether what we’ve been doing all along has been effective enough?

Have you been working to build strong charitable organizations – so that when they need disaster aid, you are confident they will use it effectively?  Have you been putting your skill to work in your local community so that when it is needed globally, you have refined your craft?  Have you taken the step to be curious at what lies outside your own home so that you are prepared to ask the right questions of the world at large?

People have commented on how amazing it is to see so many folks band together – in giving – for a disaster like Haiti.  They have wondered, “why aren’t we doing this all the time”?  My answer is that we are.  The daily effects may be tiny.  In fact, you may not see them at all.   But if you are involved, if you are *doing*…you know they are happening.