By Emily Martin
Last week for the first time ever, I joined a reading group. In this reading group we talked for a couple of hours and essentially, we put the world to rights. Ever since I was young and able to understand, I have taken an interest in and a sympathetic understanding to the problems of this world which lead me to study history, sociology and Politics. Now that I have gotten to postgraduate level, I am studying Human Rights, Globalisation and Justice. If I had designed the course myself it couldn’t be more perfect! I study this because I, like so many others, want to make a positive difference, yet I feel that learning is often the foundation of change. I am still learning so much about this world, everyday I learn about a new injustice, a new problem that I did not realise occurs every single day.
However, during my reading group, as I said, it was only 2 hours long, yet we managed to discuss so many different problems from gender discrimination to the dangers of our emergency services, we discussed pleasure and capitalism. Suddenly the most overwhelming feeling hit me. There are so, so, so many problems in this world. And they are not easy problems to change, in fact I felt that the world needed rubbing out and redrawing, tearing up and starting all over again. And how can I, one small university student, do anything to even so much as make a drop in the ocean of problems that this world has, when I myself am still learning so much about it. It made me angry, that I and so many other people want to help and yet it is so difficult, where do you even start?
It was reassuring yet upsetting to hear everyone else in my reading group had at some point felt the same. It fears me that most people have experienced this feeling of insignificance and it is probably just that which stops people from trying. But even if something seems impossible, if it is desirable, it is worth trying, isn’t it?
I was assured that fear and insignificance is no reason not to try, and that when banding together, if everyone did one tiny thing every single day then eventually the good would prevail. It is important to consider how the tiniest of actions may seem insignificant to one person, but can change the life of another. We have all experienced a tiny act of kindness that has made our day, that we remember forever. But the person who performed such an act may have forgotten about it within minutes because to them, it was nothing.
Where to begin in our reading group there was a focus on the problems of emergency services, that an institution which is designed to help others, can be dangerous, particularly to minority groups. There is often a fear of calling the police when in danger, because it can result in a person being so much worse off. I was angry, I wanted to change this. To this day I am still not sure how one does change this. All we know is that it needs to change. It may be slightly ambitious for me, a young university student to overhaul the entire world’s justice system though. More reasonably, like most things in life, it is better to begin small, as I have already explained, small is not insignificant. Instead, to try to do, at least one thing everyday, that is good. I love the image of the fish above. It demonstrated the importance of the collective. It is often seen as a desirable characteristic to be independent and to do everything on your own, never needing anyone else. But it isn’t very realistic and I don’t personally see it as that desirable. People will always need other people.
This actually may sound quite difficult, to do something good everyday, some days I am so busy I don’t even leave my flat. How can one do good all the time, sometimes the circumstances just don’t fit. But what is good does not have to necessarily mean doing something for someone else. You can do good for yourself, or for the environment maybe! Even just taking the time to learn about some of today’s problems in the world and creating a better understanding for yourself. Maybe there was a time where you were accused of racism, homophobia, but you did not understand why, well learn about it. Like I said, learning is the necessary foundation. Without knowing what it is like to live like someone else, how can you begin to understand the struggles they face. Without learning what it is really like, how do you see past the stereotypes that are created.
Alternatively, the environment is also a pressing issue in todays world! As part of my course I study the environmental problems along with human rights as though they are one. While they may be seen as different, they are also similar and I believe it is an injustice just like any other! As a kind act you could purchase a reusable product instead of the single use products we use everyday for example. Kind to your bank balance and the environment! We can be creative with good things, it is not always about changing the world overnight.
Can you imagine if every single person spent one less minute in the shower than usual. Insignificant for each individual but that is a LOT of water! Sometimes, thinking of the big picture, as I did in my reading group, can be highly overwhelming. Othertimes, it is necessary to see the difference that one person can actually make everyday. Today, my good act was to write something. I would not say that I am a writer, but it is so important to talk about problems and feelings!
Sometimes I consider a cynical view of the acts of kindness that I commit. I do them maybe because I actually feel quite guilty, that I have had such a good life, never wanting for anything, never struggling through and always having what I needed. I still do have this life which I am completely grateful for. Others do not. What can you do if you are in a privileged situation? Use it to benefit someone else! You can use your privilege as an ally to create influence and to speak up. Often, those from disadvantaged groups do not have an equal voice in our society. However, the privileged can use their position to be the means through which these voices are heard and changes are made. The positive thing about everyone having a different situation and circumstances means that everyone can have influence in a different area and that everyone’s acts of kindness would be slightly different from the next person’s act. Alternatively, maybe I do good things, to make myself feel good. We have all experienced the feeling of giving someone a gift you know they will love, or seeing the relief of a stranger when you find their purse in the car park and return it. It feels good.
But I suppose, it does not matter why we do good things, as long as we do, because maybe, for once, it is not about me. It is about other people. Because people will always need other people.
About the Author
My name is Emily Martin and I am a Masters student studying Human rights, Globalisation and Justice at Keele University. I did my degree at Keele also in Politics more generally, but focused specifically on human rights and equality modules where I could. Prior to my university studies I glided through life oblivious to most of the worlds problems and issues, including discrimination that was happening in front of me everyday. My course has really opened my eyes to this.