Natalia Temesgen

Column: Get out in the world and help instead of passing judgment

Professor Natalia Temesgen.
Professor Natalia Temesgen.

Here we are, heading into a long weekend after what has felt like a long week.

From the outside looking in, the devastation that Hurricane Harvey brought to Houston and the surrounding areas weighs heavy on me. I cannot begin to imagine how it feels from the inside looking out.

For those of us who reside outside the battleground of that terrible storm, we are left to find updates and track threads of stories through the media. We are able to pick through the charities and orgs that we feel will best serve the people of Houston and donate appropriately. We are able to find the time in our pedestrian routines to stop by the blood bank and donate. We are comfortable attacking those who seem to be doing too little and cheering on those who seem to be heroic in their sacrifice. All of this, we do from the outside. Yes, with dread and compassion and maybe for some with a bit of addictive voyeurism. But we also do it with ignorance. We are not speaking from the inside. We are prescribing remedy and we do not know in any intimate way what the ill is.

What a natural posture to take in this contemporary American moment. It’s easier than we might like to admit to take in an issue or a tragedy through a screen far off and leave our commentary – in many cases, our judgment – in response. I am so fatigued from this vulture-like approach to living in this country. If there is nothing I can do but talk about a problem, I should probably shut up. Because there is a lot more we need to do than talk. There is usually an opportunity to do something far more difficult and at this point unconventional: to act. There is an opportunity to make myself uncomfortable by sacrificing money or space in my home or time on my calendar to serve people in need, but it is so much easier and so much more culturally acceptable to simply comment.

Even writing about this feels a bit strange. I am reminded of the Henry David Thoreau quote, “How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” We must take more seriously the issues of the day that we claim so vehemently to care about. We must take them seriously enough to stand up and live them out. If we are heartbroken by the tragic wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, we must do more than say it out loud. There is something else after that. If we are angry about the face of white supremacy in our cities, we must do more than say it out loud. There is another step. And yet another after that. If we are passionate about patriotism and democracy, we must do more than say it out loud. Get involved with groups that are registering citizens to vote. Engage your local politicians.

Don’t say one more thing about what bothers you in the world today. Do something about what bothers you in the world today.