It’s been a rough week. Whether or not you keep up with current events -whether or not they affect you as strongly as they do others — it’s undeniable that everyone at Swat has felt the impact of these events at home and abroad, and it’s important to recognize that for some, “abroad” is home. We have “racial tensions” at Yale, domestic terrorism at Mizzou, the bombings in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Kenya, in Paris. Sure, these things happen every day in some places that the mass media dares not uncover. But the fact is that the world, in some way or another, has been exposed to these tragedies — and in some way or another, has to deal with them. Put that on top of the general, everyday stress/anxiety/weight that comes with being a Swarthmore student … it’s a lot to take in. Especially in such short amount of time.
And let’s not forget with these events come (oftentimes all too quickly) with conversations. Here at Swat we love the collection, it’s practically our lifeblood. And collections are generally great and healthy things. They’re a way for communities to come together and reflect and share our feelings on what’s been going on. It’s a way to breathe together, to exhale, and get things off our chests. But the danger here lies in reacting too quickly. We come, we see, we rant; trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers in minutes, seconds. An article about the Paris attacks pops up on a Facebook news feed. Scroll down, Facebook recommends a profile picture change. A click and several keystrokes later, le tricolore acts as a filter over your proudest selfie.
I was going to write this article about the implications of social media activism, about the reactions to these attacks across the globe, about the right-wing backlash against Syrian refugees, and the liberal rat race to sympathize with BlackLivesMatter. I was going to turn my column (as I have done before) into my own personal struggle against these things that enraged me, against those who would threaten and kill the innocent and against those who would retaliate in ways that only aggravate the situation. I would use my bully pulpit, however small, to denounce empty allyship, to call out those who would turn their sympathy into the struggle itself, to rant and tirade and scream with each keystroke that too often we focus on the wrong implications of a problem, and forget to look towards the root of the tree that bears such strange fruit.
But I’ve decided to do something else instead. It has been a rough week, a really rough week, for Swat students and the world in general. And in these times of tragedy, when we feel weak, when we feel powerless, when we are convinced that nothing is right in the world, perhaps we shouldn’t always rush to make sure our voices are heard first, and most loudly. We need time to think, to process, to self-collect, and to heal. Self-care is equally important.
To the social justice warriors of this world, this may seem a selfish and individualistic claim. Self care? What about the victims of the bombings in Beirut? Who will be taking care of them? And the students at Mizzou? They certainly don’t feel safe… How can we be so self-centered and selfish when people across the world don’t have half the things we do? And it’s true, even in our darkest hours at Swarthmore, we will never understand exactly how the globally victimized feel. We are all, relatively, better off. I remember my mother, an African immigrant, saying on many occasions, “You feel stressed? Try running from lions — that’s stress.”
And no, I can’t really deny that. But it’s ignorant to assume that just because we live in a relatively safe environment that these events don’t affect us all, in some way or another. And being a martyr for a cause halfway across the country — or the globe — doesn’t help anyone’s condition. Sacrificing well-being for a cause is what creates organizations like ISIS, and gives them strength. We don’t need more martyrs in the world, not for terrorism and not for counter-terrorism, not for racism and not against racism. Putting the full weight of a cause on your shoulders — especially if it’s not a cause specific to you in the first place — is unhealthy. And people shouldn’t have to die to prove that.
So I urge you, Swarthmore students, take care. Drink some tea. Cuddle up in a blanket. Finish watching Master of None on Netflix and take a good, long nap. Spend time with your loved ones, and cuddle with them too. Feel good about yourself; try and find some inner peace before tackling the world’s problems.We have to take care of ourselves before we can try and take care of world. Otherwise, we risk manifesting our inner turmoil into reality, and only worsening the situation.
Gandhi is famous for his saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I was surprised to learn that this is not true; Gandhi never really said this. The quote is actually something a lot closer to “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
I’ll leave you with that. As-Salaam Alaikum.