Considerations as we seek to deepen our understanding
The overarching goal of our program is to respond in the most robust and meaningful way possible to the words in Elon’s Mission Statement that read in part, “We integrate learning across the disciplines and put knowledge into practice, thus preparing students to be global citizens
and informed leaders motivated by concern for the common good.”
The Periclean Scholars program represents a unique academic pathway that facilitates students -as members of a cohort- to do long-term and sustainable work on significant global social/environmental issues typically in partnership with people and organizations on the ground in their country of focus. To emphasize: Pericleans never do service for our country of focus or our partners but rather service with these people and organizations. Our approach is described in the Periclean Pledge, a legacy of the Class of 2010:
We pledge to…
- Listen to our partnering communities, acknowledging they often have the best solutions to local problems.
- Learn about our partner communities’ history and traditions, to better engage in culturally-aware dialogue.
- Assist our partners in community-run development projects that will enable their long-term success.
- Responsibly study, document, and publicize our partner communities’ needs and desires.
- Be committed to building life long sustainable partnerships, recognizing they take hard work and dedication.
- Embrace our lifelong journey of global citizenship through intellectual and personal growth.
This pledge reflects the sentiment of Lily Walker, an aboriginal woman who said, “If you come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us begin.” Indeed, as global citizens we are keenly aware that all humans are our brothers and sisters and our fates are indeed interconnected, we share a common humanity. Framed with this understanding, our quest as Pericleans must always be to work toward moving ourselves and our partners along pathways to lives of dignity while at the same time realizing that our collective dignity as humans is in play. Justice can never mean “just us.”
I wrote this two years ago about our Pledge:
I have been watching with keen interest the Kony2012 controversy unfold both on the Internet and here on campus and have been generally pleased by the depth of conversation that has ensued as one writer after another has critically dissected the actions of Invisible Children. I recently read The Atlantic article by Teju Cole entitled “White Savior Industrial Complex” and immediately imagined how our program would measure up to his scathing observation that, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” As I reflected on each Periclean Scholars Class – both past and present – I felt confident that each has lived up to our Periclean Pledge that, in my reading, is the demonstrative opposite of the “White Savior Industrial Complex.” Our program stands as an exemplar of a culturally mindful and rigorous approach to fulfilling our duties as global citizens and as meaningful partners to our friends and colleagues around the world. In Saviors and Survivors, Mahmood Mamdani provides a deep background behind the “Save Darfur” movement and foreshadows the Kony2012 controversy. From his introduction: “In contrast to those who suggest that we act as soon as the whistle blows, I suggest that, even before the whistle blows we ceaselessly try to know the world in which we live — and act. Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant.” (p. 6)
I feel confident that if either Cole or Mamdani were to examine our program they would see that we proceed in all cases with eyes open, ready to “know the world” and thus be true global citizens committed to the common good of all humanity.
Being a Periclean
The process of deepening our understanding of what it means to be a Periclean is ongoing and demands constant and rigorous reflection and research. We must always
- ceaselessly learn more about global social issues in general and specifically about the issue(s) facing our countries of focus
- probe more deeply into not only the symptoms of the problems generated by these issues but the many root causes as well, that is, look not only at the what but squarely at the why
- be educated about the latest research and news related to issues facing our country of focus and be able to communicate this information both formally and publicly in both word and in writing
- be informed about the actions and approaches of the people and organizations who are already addressing the issues facing your country of focus
- act on addressing issues exclusively from a solid base of knowledge and fully informed of all consequences, both intended and unintended
These last two bullet points are the focus below.
Global citizens as humanitarians
As Director, I have devoted a good deal of my research and writing energies in the last decade to leaning more about what it means to be a global citizen and to act on knowledge about global social issues. Our program is, in one sense, a multi-pronged NGO doing both aid and development work around the world. As each Class begins to partner with people and organizations dealing with the issues in their country they have the serious responsibility to vet -and be vetted by- these people and organizations. This vetting process must ask the hard questions, examining factors such as mission statement, overall transparency of operations, sustainability plans and practices, and, critically, cultural sensitivity and thoughtfulness with which any aid or development work is done. This vetting involves constant research that must remain a central focus of any Class.
I have read a good deal about the humanitarian aid sector and am now collaborating on research about the views of aid workers around the world. My collaborator, J, is the author of Letters Left Unsent, a recommended read for all Pericleans. I invite you to read through our blog and learn from the over 900 humanitarian aid workers that responded to our survey. Particularly relevant might be the post on “MONGO’s ” (My Own NGO).
At bare minimum each Periclean and her Class must clearly understand that there is a tremendous difference between “giving” and “partnering.” When you give to a cause, for example donate cans of soup to the local shelter or send a check to aid the hungry in Honduras, this is a meaningful act, and these actions can, at times, be better than not doing those acts of charity. But partnering is more. More meaningful, more difficult, and more time consuming. Here is a summary of the differences and similarities:
|Helpful to others?
||Sometimes yes, with many, many qualifications.
||Yes, with qualifications
|A meaningful connection?
||No. Just the opposite.
||Yes, if done right
||Done right, yes!
Doing bad by doing good?
The literature on the history and nature of humanitarian aid and development work is growing rapidly, much like the field itself. There continues to be a robust -though largely unresolved- discussion of how best to proceed with aid. The Jeffery Sacks [The End of Poverty] versus William Easterly [White Man's Burden] tug of war is instructive and a close read of their works leaves one better informed but ultimately, I think not entirely clear as to the proper direction of the humanitarian aid world. I write about this in the aid worker voices blog; check here for my thoughts on Sachs and here for some of my thoughts about this and other related issues.
There are many books and articles that are critical and cautionary with regard to humanitarian efforts, many of them focusing on the motivation of the people who believe they are helping. Below I list and discuss some useful examples.
In The Road to Hell Michael Maren writes, “The starving African exists as a point in space from which we measure our own wealth, success, and prosperity, a darkness against which we can view our own cultural triumphs. And he serves as a handy object of our charity. He is evidence that we have been blessed, and we have an obligation to spread that blessing. The belief that we can help is an affirmation of our own worth in the grand scheme of things.” The Atlantic article by Teju Cole mentioned above describing the “white savior industrial complex” is a restatement of Maren’s observation. Both Cole and Maren owe debt to a thinker more from my generation, the Austrian philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich.
In an address to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects (CIASP) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on April 20, 1968 Illich raises the issue of doing unintentional harm, “… the Peace Corps spends around $10,000 on each corps member to help him adapt to his new environment and to guard him against culture shock. How odd that nobody ever thought about spending money to educate poor Mexicans in order to prevent them from the culture shock of meeting you?”
Here Illich anticipates many contemporary critics of so-called voluntourism: “There exists the argument that some returned volunteers have gained insight into the damage they have done to others – and thus become more mature people. Yet it is less frequently stated that most of them are ridiculously proud of their “summer sacrifices.” I do not agree with this argument. The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn’t have been volunteers in the first place.”
Though he makes some points with which I might disagree, Robert Lupman’s Toxic Charity provides some examples and discussion of what might be seen as “doing bad by doing good”. In this blog post J presents a taxonomy of arguments in favor of bad aid that we hear -and even voice ourselves- frequently. His critiques are sharp but merit close reading, and the pith of his argument is here: “Aid is a profession. It just is. It’s possible to hurt people by getting it wrong.” Through the lens of his and Lupman’s arguments I can only wonder how own Periclean efforts would be perceived, not to mention the myriad “service trips” taken by Elon students every fall and spring break.
This recent article by Debora Dunn (Bearing Witness: Seeing as a Form of Service) effectively summaries many of the messages in James Dawes book That the World May Know. Dunn offers many nuanced cautions and presents some good suggestions specifically in reference to study travel through universities. She encourages us to “think about service in which students do not descend from on high, but rather come alongside.” For his part, Dawes presents this thought: “This contradiction between our impulse to heed trauma’s cry for representation and our instinct to protect it from representation — from invasive staring, simplification, dissection — is a split at the heart of human rights advocacy.” [emphasis in original] He goes on further to state “The disconcerting paradox of humanitarian work is this: it is sometimes impossible to distinguish between the desire to help others from the desire to amplify the self, to distinguish between altruism and narcissism.” Challenging words, those.
Being a Periclean Scholar is a process that involves constant learning, growing and, hence, ongoing reassessment of intent and action both as an individual and as a Class. Please take all of the above as a point of departure for reflection as you move forward.
Here are some books that I would consider “must reads.” Please let me know if you have suggestions for additional reading.
Books related to humanitarianism:
- Abu-Sada, Caroline (ed.). In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crisis Perceive Humanitarian Aid, Doctors Without Borders, 2012.
- Barnett, Michael. The Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, Cornell University, 2011.
- Bortolotti, Dan. Hope in Hell: Inside the World of Doctors Without Borders, Firefly Books, 2010.
- Burnett, John. Where Soldiers Fear to Tread: A Relief Worker’s Tale of Survival, New York: Bantam Books, 2005.
- Cain, Ken, Postlewait, Heidi and Thomson, Andrew. Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures), Miramax Books, 2004.
- Corbett, Steve and Fikkert, Brian. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, Moody Publishers, 2009.
- Coyne, Christopher. Doing Bad By Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails, Stanford University Press, 2013.
- Dawes, James. That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity. Harvard University Press, 2007.
- Easterly, William. The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, Penguin Press, 2006.
- Easterly, William. The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor Penguin Press, 2014.
- Farah, Nuruddin. Gifts, Penguin, 1999.
- Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, University of California Press, 2003.
- Farmer, Paul. Haiti after the earthquake, New York: Public Affairs, 2011.
- Greitens, Eric. The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian and the Making of a Navy Seal, Mariner Books, 2011.
- Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: The Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Mariner Books, 1999.
- Katz, Johnathan. The Big Red Truck Went By: How the World Cane to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, Palgrave, 2013.
- Lupton, Robert. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, HarperOne (Harper-Collins Publishers), 2011.
- Magone, Claire, Neuman, Michael, Weissman, Fabrice (eds.) Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience, Columbia University Press, 2011.
- Mamdani, Mahmood. Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, Doubleday, 2009.
- Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, New York: The Free Press, 1997.
- Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
- Orbinski, James. An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-First Century, Walker & Company, 2008.
- Polman, Linda. War Games (Crisis Caravan): The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times, Penguin Books, 2010.
- Reiff, David. A Bed For the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, Simon & Shuster, 2002.
- Sachs, Jeffery. The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Penguin Press, 205.
- Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, Random House, 2009.
- Stearns, Jason. Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, Public Affairs, 2011.
- Temple-Raston. Justice on the Grass: Three Rwandan Journalists, Their Trial for War Crimes, and a Nation’s Quest for Redemption, New York: Free Press, 2005
- Wright, Jeff (J). Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit, Evil Genius Publishing, LLC, 2013.
- Wright, Jeff (J). Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance Novel, Evil Genius Publishing, LLC, 2013.
- Wright, Jeff(J). Honor Among Thieves, Evil Genius Publishing, LLC, (forthconing)2014.
- Wright, Jeff (J). Letters Left Unsent, Evil Genius Publishing, LLC, 2014.
Some recent articles related to voluntourism: