We, the West, have a bit of an attitude problem. After years of growing our economy and increasing our living standards we feel this urge to help people who don’t have it as well as we do. This is, however, an interesting thought and something worth discussing. Because how do we believe we can help people the best? And what do we truly know about them?
In order to help people, you must have a plan. And the Dutch documentary series De Westerlingen is one of the sources providing its watchers with a sense of western ideas not being welcome. It raises the question of what our plan is and whether is it actually helping others.
We are very good at helping our own people and this is probably because we know their customs and way of life. This is, however, not the case when we talk about places in The East or South (or wherever that’s not Europe to be honest). The average Joe probably can’t go into detail about the Arab world or tribes throughout the African continent. No, the women don’t necessarily dislike their hijab, nor is it people living in huts because they aren’t intelligent. Consider this: what if people like the way they’re living?
“The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”
Martin Luther King Jr. – The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
So, we send a troop packed with supplies and idealist ideas on how to make this world a better place. Yet, we force these ideas on people who aren’t even receptive to this because our idea of freedom and help is different from theirs. One of the problems here is that we don’t educate ourselves enough and therefore have created our own idea of how the world should be, using our own frame of reference. But if we read A Thousand Splendid Suns we learn some actual history of Afghanistan through a beautiful and sad story. If we read poetry like Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol we learn about the impact colonialism and missionaries have had on African people. Things Fall Apart is an impressive fable taking its reader on a trip to Nigeria and a man’s immemorial conflict between the individual and society. It’s time to learn about history in order to understand the present and to work with it adequately. Something everyone can do.
I challenge you to let go of your (slight) ”Western arrogance” and Eurocentric view and start educating yourself before you act. And if you’re not into reading, Netflix also has a lot of movies and documentaries that you can watch to broaden your horizon (see recommendations below). And ask yourself why and how you do the things you do to help. Don’t do it just to score some points.
In other words, don’t just assume you know what’s happening because you watch the news, this too is often Eurocentric. Wonder about the world and educate yourself. Give the people you so desperately want to help equal opportunities because that will make us able to support each other without both losing face or strength. And think about who you’re doing it for and how you would like to be treated.
For inspiration and a laugh:
A few Netflix recommendations to help broaden your horizon: