Don’t save the world
One of the biggest issues that afflict the world is that very often we all want to be the hero who saves it.
This is one of the big reasons why the US is so resented in global geopolitics – because America really wants to save people from what is generally themselves.
So let’s take Iraq – what was the narrative that was sold to the American people to get their backing for the war? Saddam Hussein was evil, and heroes fight to topple evil, no matter the cost.
The net result has been a dramatic lessening of American and Western political credibility. If the Iraq war had never happened, there wouldn’t be a debate about Western intervention in Syria right now.
The urge to save people who appear helpless is a powerful one, it is what we imagine we most want others to feel for us if we are ever in the same situation, and it is what we admire in others when they do it and it works.
The trouble is that it is also essentially disempowering, because the narrative becomes one of dependence - a sort of well intentioned colonialism rather than helping the rebels gain their independence.
And of course, with that colonialism you get a lot of baggage where the ‘helping’ power figures it gets to call the shots over what exactly the new government does with its ‘independence.’
Now this sounds like condemnation of the West, except we all pretty much do the same thing.
We in South Africa are full of helpful advice for the rest of the continent, which more or less rolls its eyes at us while politely neglecting to mention our own issues with rape and xenophobia.
It is a universal thing – we all want to be the person who saves the world, because that is a position of power you can feel good about. It makes you feel superior solving other people’s problems.
And it can all go very badly wrong when we allow that feeling of superiority to guide us, rather than listening to the people who we think need rescuing.