What is it that lures each of us to reach out to those distant communities who are in need of aid all while our own nearby relatives are struggling to support their kids through grade school? Why is it that instead of focusing our welfare on the ones we know and love, we reach out to people we have never met—people we may never meet—to better their livelihoods? It’s selfish, isn’t it, to help better the lives of strangers across an ocean, when we could be focusing on the disparities amongst our own neighbors?
Or, perhaps it’s not selfish at all.
Global humanitarianism is an interesting concept, because it requires a community movement working towards a unified, widespread effort, rather than an individual, localized one. Some say global humanitarianism is a wasted effort, as we should only be helping others after we have helped ourselves. But to those who antagonize the global humanitarian, I ask you this: since when was doing a deed labeled a bad one because it didn’t help everybody? Is virtue not present in all goodness?
Is the doctor who volunteers her time to travel to West Africa during the height of the Ebola outbreak selfish because she left her five-year-old sickly son at home with her husband? Does the volunteer who leaves his poverty-stricken neighborhood to provide disaster relief in response to Japan’s tsunami have erroneous priorities? Should he have stayed home to provide relief in his own community?
There of course is some merit in the argument that we should be helping ourselves before we help others. There are monetary circumstances when it is perhaps unsuitable and inefficient to focus on issues abroad rather than domestic ones. But then, morals come into play. The human race is vast with unique attributes and talents existing amongst each individual, so it may be ignorant to assume the doctor fighting Ebola in West Africa is selfishly abandoning her sickly son, when perhaps she is the only person who has the ability to save the eight-year-old schoolgirl’s life in that Sierra Leone medical clinic.
It is human instinct, above all else, to survive. Must our instinct solely be limited towards helping ourselves survive, or is it also our duty to lend our excess skills to others who are in need of them?
Whether you are a global humanitarian, a local humanitarian, or no humanitarian at all, all you can do is help those you can in the ways you can, and that’s that. Never feel guilty for lending a hand, no matter whose hand you are holding in the process.