In 2011, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”
Three years later, Zuckerberg’s quote still deeply resonates and brings to light a major issue in the United States: many people simply do not care; they are more concerned with local interests in their ‘bubble’ than rampant human rights abuses in other parts of the world.
The rise of social media, the “Facebook Effect,” is turning everyday events into news. Thus, while someone might see a friend’s dramatic post about the squirrel falling off a branch in front of their home, the fact that four million newborns worldwide die in their first month of life remains largely invisible to the public eye.
This bubble must be popped; people must become more educated about what is happening abroad so that tangible change can happen to overall make the world a more peaceful and equitable place.
The media is certainly instigating this trend, with extensive coverage on dramatic, sensationalized events while other events are routinely ignored.
For example, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 dominated national news publications for over a month after the plane disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean. It was a “mystery,” coupled with images of mourning relatives, puzzled government officials and the gripping realization throughout the world that innocent people on the plane may indeed be gone forever.
I am obviously not trying to downplay the atrocity of the incident, especially for family members of the passengers. Yet, while hundreds of thousands of Americans were glued to their TVs to learn about any updates from the plane crash, the 1 billion children living in poverty never had their screen debut. Many people did not care to hear their stories.
According to the World Programme, hunger is the number one cause of death in the world and ends more lives than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Nearly one-half of the global population—more than three billion people—lives on less than $2.50 a day. And 101 million children are not attending primary school.
Furthermore, when the media does briefly address such struggles, they often universalize the “third world person” as uneducated and in need of saving. However, these monolithic assumptions only reinforce the status quo, support Western dominance and ignore culture heterogeneity and the individual experiences that people face globally.
We need to hear their stories, we need to listen, we need to understand other cultures and local concerns. Billions of people are deprived of basic political and socio-economic rights daily, yet we stay silent on their struggles. We refuse to understand, and instead remain close-minded in a bubble of luxury, of Facebook, of squirrels dying in the front yard.
In order to build relationships and better understand people of other cultures, Americans must recognize their own biases towards others in order to consciously make an effort to better communicate with and understand peoples that reside outside of their own groups. While many people are informed about foreign affairs and various cultures, too many remain ignorant on these matters. Especially for international development agencies that specifically address socio-economic issues throughout the world, it is imperative that these workers listen to local issues and provide individualized help, as opposed to offering blanket policy advice that fails to recognize cross-cultural concerns.
People must expand their worldviews, try to become more educated about issues and help in the fight to make the world a better place. Prove to Zuckerberg that he is wrong; prove that we do care.
— Nicole Einbinder