Peace journalism, world travel, the politics of doing good

28 Nov

I’m revving up for my trip to the Middle East over winter break – assuming I can get the money for a plane ticket. We’re down to the wire here, so something needs to come through and fast, inshallah. (That’s an Arabic word –  إنشالله – that expresses hope for the future. It transliterates as “God willing”.) It would be awesome if an airline would just donate my ticket! Dare to dream.

I’ve gotten some great attention for my trip – Kelly Evanson at the Examiner did a really great piece about my trip to Uganda on a peace journalism scholarship and my upcoming trip to the kingdom of Jordan. Then, my journalism professor, John Lofflin, wrote about doing good and journalism. He talks about my work in Uganda and Jordan, and is really very sweet. When other people write about what I’ve done and/or experienced, it sounds a lot bigger than I give it credit for.

Professor Lofflin’s blog post made me think, like his posts and Professor Steve Youngblood’s posts usually do. (Side note – here’s Professor Youngblood’s post about my trips, where he quotes my identity crisis entry from my online Uganda travel journal.) Lofflin’s post made me think because I wouldn’t have characterized my passions and my work as “doing good.” I mean, that’s what it is, don’t get me wrong. But instead of “doing good,” I always thought of peace journalism and community service as “doing right.”

I feel like it’s my duty as a global citizen to do what I can to improve this place we call home. Whenever I borrowed something as a kid, my dad would remind me to return it in better condition than I found it. I feel the same way about the world – I’m borrowing resources from the planet for 100 years or so, so I better not leave a legacy of violence, environmental disaster, and suffering.

The only photo on my laptop of just me and my Grandma. It's from 1990. I think I need an updated one.

I credit my Grandma Sally with my passion for community service. Ever since I can remember, she’s been a volunteer. She would give her very last dollar to someone in need, if she thought they would take it. (That’s not an expression. She’s really done that.) When I was little, she would show me how to do craft projects that would end up in the hands of people less fortunate than us. When she lived with us for a year when I was a teenager, together we made something like 100 stockings for deployed soldiers in Iraq, so they could have a holiday too. (Not just Christian holidays, either — we made Jewish stockings with the help of a local synagogue!) These are the memories I hold most dear from growing up.

My grandma still volunteers. Now that she’s retired, she volunteers several days a week with various organizations. I really admire that. (I wish she had a website or a blog I could link to, so you could see her work yourself. Maybe my weekend project needs to be Operation Blogging Granny. Actually, that’d be a pretty decent title, too!)

The idea of spending my life working for a place whose only goal is to make money kills my soul. I can’t do that. It feels so false. Especially because when you buy a thing – a shirt, a couch, a doll – you’re buying the idea of the lifestyle that goes with it. You’re not just buying a couch – you’re buying a retro-style piece of art that will make your friends think you are the most hipster of them all. Yuck.

Instead, I hope to make a living doing right. That’s a much more loaded term than Professor Lofflin’s “doing good”, I know. Who can determine what’s “right” for a community, a person, or – really – even yourself? I could not be so arrogant as to tell others what’s “right” for them.

But I think some things are undeniably “right”. Feeding hungry children. Equipping people with the tools they need to communicate about their bodies. Educating women in rural communities. Finding the bridge between enemies so, even if they can’t be friends, they can be neighbors. Showing families how to sanitize water. Eliminating domestic violence. Helping society’s forgotten people – drug addicts, prostitutes, runaways – to escape that lifestyle and find fulfillment. To give the ignored a voice.

These are the things we can (mostly) agree on. (I know some people don’t think drug addicts or prostitutes deserve help — but I challenge you to listen to a few of their life stories before you cast judgement.)

I straddle between two majors at Park University because neither one is quite right, but both are close. Public relations is the art of spreading a message and an action plan to a mass audience. Journalism is telling true stories from the community, and done right, gives a voice to someone who’s never been heard before. I love both of these ideas. I hope to land in a career that combines these into one job that impacts the community positively. A job where I’m not there to make money, but paying my rent is a byproduct of my work. I don’t need to be rich to be fulfilled (though it would be lovely to have the money to travel the world).

I know I’ll face opposition on this journey. If “doing good” can’t even been included in Park University’s mission statement because it’s too political a term, I can’t imagine what I’ll face as I try to “do right”.  But I guess if I can survive everything I’ve lived through already, I can survive anything.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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