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About the Author

Giedre Steikunaite
Student (London, United Kingdom)

Currently an editorial intern at the New Internationalist magazine ("The people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice"), I'm studying journalism and contemporary history in London, UK. Freelancing for various publications, back in Lithuania I was a reporter for a current affairs weekly Panorama. Development, climate change, and social issues are my main topics of interest.

Post

This mess we’re in

Published 04th May 2010 - 19 comments - 2531 views -

If only people cared! This proves for me the hardest thing: how to engage people, how to persuade them that our world is one, how to make them care about what’s happening on the planet?

“We have to show how our lives are connected to other people’s lives. We’re not operating in a vacuum,” said Zohra Moosa from Action Aid UK. So I started observing, and here’s the result.

I wake up in the morning. Need a coffee for my brain to start some conscious activity. Check it out: my coffee is made by Nestle. Shame, shame on me. It was cheaper than fair trade… and even though, it cost me half an hour of my labour.  

I go to my bathroom. I’m lucky to have one. More than a third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a flushing toilet, as The Poo Taboo informed us. And in India, more people have a cellphone than a toilet – how does that make sense?

While taking a shower and brushing my teeth, I’m thinking how much water I’m using. Water is life, and it’s scarce. Although here in London it’s hard to believe it: you turn a tap, and it’s there. I hate automatic taps in public places as they seem to run forever, you can’t stop them. On the other hand, maybe that’s better, as so many people just leave the mechanic tap on after they’re finished with it. But what if there is no tap? I see images of people with buckets of often brownish water.

Today I’ll put on my blue jeans and some shirt. The label says Made in Bangladesh. Probably the person who made it lives on some shameful $20 a month, struggling to feed their family and stay alive. And keep the job, no matter how much they hate it.

I haven’t left the house yet, but feelings of anxiety are already creeping in.

I go to the bus stop. Someone drops litter from their pockets straight onto the pavement. The bin is two meters away.

On the bus, someone on the phone mentions Jamaica. I remember Jamaica For Sale, a film about the damaging aspects of tourism. A post will follow.

On the tube, I read the paper. Anger fills me up as I look at a picture of a dead turtle on Mississippi beach, most probably victim of the recent oil spill, a human-made disaster. Ecocide, that is. So much for biodiversity. Let’s not pretend anymore, it’s bioDIEversity.

At uni, everyone is busy with their own little problems. A late book return, consequent 50p fine; low phone battery; too many pints last night; essay deadline tomorrow… Everyone with a bottle of water and a chocolate bar, for sugar. Brown gold… and child labour. Then add virtual water to make all this... I need a smoke.

I go for a cigarette. I’m threatening my health myself, but how many people suffer health problems with no fault of their own? How many are denied basic health services, let alone proper ones?

After uni, I go back to the tube. There are definitely too many people on Central line. Too many in the world, too. A girl next to me has a handbag that says Whatever. Yeah, that’s right! Whatever ideology is probably the most popular one ever.

I need to buy some food. I have some cash for it, and it’s easily available. (Still) Already two pluses which we take for granted. Tesco is around the corner, but at this point I can’t go there. It stinks of exploitation. The British throw away 1/3 the food they buywhile millions go hungry. Food crisis, water crisis, environmental catastrophe: how much is too much? We crossed all possible lines already, and yet it’s still a mess.

This mess we’re in… City sunset over me. (Thom Yorke&PJ Harvey)

 

Photo: me.

 


Category: Crisis | Tags:


Comments

  • Lara Smallman on 04th May 2010:

    Yes we’re in a mess. But what about all the efforts to get out of it? All the campaigns? The campaigners? The ever increasing number of fair trade products on the shelves, the increasing prominence given to human rights and the environment by politicians?

    There is still a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to be positive about. Why such doom and gloom?


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th May 2010:

    Thank you Lara. It’s not all doom and gloom, there are lots of positive things happening and being done, sure.

    What affects me a lot is the widespread disengagement with the world’s problems. I’m not campaigning for everyone to feel guilty all the time or cry “we’re doomed!” and give up fighting altogether.

    It makes me sad seeing this “I don’t care” attitude. I guess it depends on one’s social circles, people you talk to and socialize with. But what I see is many nice, good, intelligent people completely out of touch with the world! That connection needs to be restored.


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 04th May 2010:

    “I go to my bathroom. I’m lucky to have one. “

    Why, it’s not that bad doing it out in the wild. People have done that for centuries ;p


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 04th May 2010:

    Saves water for one! Right?


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th May 2010:

    Is this sarcastic, Ivaylo?

    Basic sanitation and hygiene is crucially important for one’s health and also dignity. It’s outrageous that it is not accessible to so many people.


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 05th May 2010:

    Thanks for this Giedre. Makes us all think about the “mess we are in” huh?! Oh and yes, totally agree in having one’s bathroom and the part of the cigarette.

    Is the photo taken in Patagonia?


  • Johan Knols on 05th May 2010:

    Hello Giedre,

    Having lived in Africa for quite a while I have asked myself the same questions as you. For myself - in order to stay sane - I have come to the conclusion that it is not fair to expect those around me to have the same level of awareness as I have. I have had days without tap-water, I had sometimes no electricity, I have seen people dying of Aids and I sat in smelly hospitals. But…those around me haven’t. They have been growing up in luxury their entire life. It is therefore not fair to expect them to th!nk in a similar way.

    So how could we raise more awareness for the world’s problems?
    Here is my personal idea:

    For most people in the developed world money is key. So that is where our focus should be. But we need a shift in thinking.
    Why does my neighbor with kids gets a monthly state-contribution? Those without kids should be ‘rewarded’. Why do car buyers get a discount when buying a ‘green(er)’ vehicle? Those without a vehicle should get an incentive. Why is public transport not free? It would save billions on road constructions. Why is there no law that says that every private outside light needs an automatic day-night switch or for that matter a movement switch even in the house?

    I watched in awe as I heard the Greeks moan and bitch about the ‘step back’ they have to make in the coming years. Because ‘it is not their fault that the elite made a mess out of it’. What?? Who voted for the promises making elite? Who wanted to stop working at 53? Who got paid a 13th AND 14th month?

    If this involvement in TH!NK3 has taught me one thing, than it is that we are definitely in a much bigger mess than I held possible before. Yet, it makes for exiting times!


  • Carmen Paun on 05th May 2010:

    Your post reminds me of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Giedre. He published it in a paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation”. That is why every time I hear people wondering why other people don’t care I think about this hierarchy. Even though the concept has been criticized, I personally believe it is highly applicable and easy to work with. People care first about their own wellbeing and want to make sure that is secured. The need to help people that you don’t see every day, that you only see on TV just like you see a sad film is definitely not part of the basis of this hierarchy. That is why I am not surprised that people don’t care. And I don’t blame them, I think each and every one of us has moments in their life (if they don’t live their whole life like that) when they only care about themselves, their family and friends.
    And then it’s also proximity. Of course one is more familiar and more interested of things and people that are close to you. The problems of other countries, the lack of basic resources of other people are important, of course, but then I can think about that when I am done with my paper due tomorrow. And so on.
    I believe the way to get people to act and care is to have them benefiting from these actions. And when fair trade coffee will be cheaper than the one produced by Nestle maybe we will see a shift in people’s actions.


  • Stefan May on 05th May 2010:

    The most important thing one should remember in those moments is probably: You are not alone, we are many and we can make it (and all previous generations didn’t have it easy either).
    And even if we don’t, at least we did something worthwhile with our life and not just ‘whatever’, how dull and pathetic that is - I’m rather full of weltschmerz.

    Also maybe you should treat yourself better than with a cigarette. Stop smoking, it’s is very bad;)


  • Jodi Bush on 05th May 2010:

    Giedre, I’ve been having the same pangs of anxiety. I was just thinking about it today. I believe we need to change, and I make efforts here and there - but I’m in no way dedicated to the cause like I feel I ought to be. I make much more money than the majority of the world’s population, I sometimes take a taxi to the train station in the mornings because I don’t want to wait around for the bus (time is precious), I have a house and a car which are bigger than my needs, and well the list goes on as you point out. Clothes, food, transport… I don’t even know where to begin. The only thing I’ve fully committed to is being vegetarian because I think that if we all did one thing it should be giving up meat - oh and I’ve boycotted coke recently because I think they’re a scummy company. And despite this forum being full of enthusiastic and dedicated individuals the world around me does not reflect that. Noone I know even gives these issues a second thought - except perhaps to sponsor a friend or donate to hurricane victims. I have to say that sometimes it all feels pretty dismal. Sorry for the downer everyone!


  • Clare Herbert on 06th May 2010:

    Interesting post, Giedre. I think the job of the journalist or blogger in this case is to explain to the public WHY they should care and WHAT they should do. We can’t blame the readership that they are not interested - it’s our job to interest them.

    I think we all have pangs of anxiety/guilt from time to time. What matters is what we do with them. The world’s most wasted resource is good intentions. What are you going to do today to be the change you want to be in the world?


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 06th May 2010:

    Thank you guys for sharing your experiences! It’s so re-assuring, really.

    @Iris, the photo is from Atacama, Chile’s desert in the North of the country. Patagonia will follow when I have some money smile Have you been there, Iris?

    @Johan. You are absolutely brilliant. “in order to stay sane…” I guess we have to take some defense measures which in this case is accepting that people don’t share the same experiences. But you know what I don’t understand? Tiny things, too hard to do one’s bit. My own mom doesn’t recycle, for example, even though there are coloured bins outside the house. Why, she says. A shift in thinking, as you say, is what we need. Money? I think we already agreed in your previous post that all somehow comes back to it. Hence, that is the key. And you know what, TH!NK has taught me the same thing: we are in a bigger mess than I thought. Oh hell…

    @Carmen, I definitely agree with the points you’re making. I, too, can understand the disconnection, but come on, it has to be temporary, like you say. One can’t live on Earth believing they live in a vacuum. Do you think a feeling of having helped someone or just pure feeling good by having done something good would be enough of a benefit? Or perhaps we need to talk money, as Johan said? Btw, have you seen Bart’s post on the pyramid of needs?

    @Stefan, thank you. It really makes a difference to understand you are not alone, and it’s super good to share things we care about with others. In my social circle, there are very few people I can do that with, and so this platform is purely fantastic for this purpose! Oh and yes smoking is bad, but well.. mm… ehh.. maybe on Jan 1. Cheers Stefan smile

    @Jodi. Thank you for your honest response. This anxiety kicks in from time to time, and recently even more often, and it’s hard to deal with this guilt of not doing enough. The explanation (or the excuse?) is then “well I have to deal with this and this and this first”, and in a way it’s understandable, but it doesn’t lift up the guilt. Just like you, the world around me doesn’t reflect all the dedication and enthusiasm either, and that is another source of frustration. You’d think people who are OK would feel some kind of responsibility in the world, but they usually don’t. This is scary: action cannot happen without a thought, it has to follow it, and if the thought ain’t there, there won’t be any action.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 06th May 2010:

    Clare, food for thought. The problem is when we get so involved in our daily routines, from performing well at work to watching a movie to relax, that change falls down the priority list.. But again, it’s reassuring to know people share these feelings and have come up with their solutions.


  • Tiziana Cauli on 06th May 2010:

    Geidre,
    I also think the Whatever ideology is very popular these days, and not ony in connection with issues affecting the developing world. I am no longer based in my home country and keep wondering how people there can vote for a government which has performed so ridiculously poorely on social, constitutional, international and economic matters. I used to think people start caring and using their brain only when their own pockets are affected, but I realized I was wrong. That didn’t happen in Italy and, as far as I have seen since I’m here, Spain is not that different. Every other day some friend calls me to announce he or she got fired. The crisis here is as bad as that. But hey, you don’t get to see a single political debate on TV and people don’t even look pissed off or scared. They have their unemployment cheque after all. And those whose employers did not pay for social security can still find some tax-free undeclared job. Of course, every night the rambla is packed with Guinean teenage girls who are forced to pick up fat old clients who came to Barcelona on holiday or for some conference from other EU countries with lots of cash and golden credit cards. These girls are worse-off than any unemployed Spanish residents, but can they really expect anybody would care about them here in Europe, where we have become too lazy to even think about our increasingly worrying conditions?


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 06th May 2010:

    Good point, Tiziana. If we are too lazy to stand up even for ourselves, why would we care about someone else’s well-being, or bad-being, in that case? It’s a shame.

    Employment is a complex issue. In my own crappy job that pays the rent and feeds me, everyone has had enough of the management who treat us as if we were filthy rats, but nobody does anything, nobody joins a union, nobody files complaints, nobody stands up because we’re afraid to lose this source of income, and so we continue in this position. From time to time we discuss a strike, but nothing ever happens. Fear of unemployment is just part of it, the other is that we just can’t be bothered. Imagine! Can’t be bothered to fight for our decent treatment!


  • Aija Vanaga on 06th May 2010:

    This is a really real post smile It smells like reality, truth .. Somehow it stinks..


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 06th May 2010:

    Giedre,

    I haven’t been to Patagonia! But I’d love to go. I just thought it was Patagonia. I only saw it in a movie.


  • Hemant Jain on 10th May 2010:

    I am sorry Giedre, but I will also contribute to the doom and gloom. Just the other day I wrote:
    No, it wasn’t this bad. Ever. When I look back all these years of my life, I don’t think I have seen a worse time.
    http://www.munnaontherun.com/2010/04/will-this-shitstorm-blow-over.html

    And I think I had answered this feeling of mine a month back in another rant:

    What if it we talked not about ‘me’, but ‘us’?

    What if we said, I am a part of We.

    What if we said, “We need cleaner air!”? That would have taken out all those stupid air conditioner ads that promise ‘healthy’ environments and shoved them up the marketers asses. That would have meant, we need more trees, more parks, less traffic, better public transport, better amenities.

    http://www.munnaontherun.com/2010/01/to-hell-with-world.html

    There you go. But these days, I mostly feel like walking out on this revolution. More about that later. smile


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 11th May 2010:

    Hemant, thank you for reacting to this.

    Your words, “I don’t think I have seen a worse time”, are very powerful. If this is the progress our species is aiming at, well then we might as well be heading towards the devil at the end (no religious connections!). 

    Anyways, I hope this doomy gloom is temporary. I’m waiting for your posts, but please don’t walk out just yet. smile


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