In 1999, my sewing teacher invited her students to participate in an international relief effort. At ten years old, I spent much of my summer sewing up quilts for Kosovo. They were simple quilts, with a sheet of batting sandwiched between two coordinating sheets of cotton fabric, secured with yarn knots at regular intervals. The quilts were often in juvenile pastels, as I imagined kids across the world admiring the design as they climbed into bed. I knew that they needed help, but I don’t think I even began to understand the ramifications of living in a war-torn country.
With Kosovo back in the news, it sparked my memory of that summer. An internet search turned up an article in which a nine-year old quilter name Destiny said, in 1999, “The people in Kosovo are so cold, we have to make them feel warm and safe. There’s little babies who have to stay warm over there or they will die. Everyone should help out because if we don’t, things will get worse.” I suspect my understanding was similarly naive.
My own ignorance, which I believe was acceptable given my age at the time, got me thinking about our modern-day relief efforts. Whenever there is a growing movement, hordes of people change their social media profile pictures or headlines to show support for the latest social or political initiative. However, when asked about the mission of the organization or the historical circumstances leading up to the present-day unrest, the answers are often canned responses, parroted back without the willingness or ability to engage in a thoughtful discussion.
It takes time to research current issues, thoroughly understand the history, and be able to articulate both the supporting and opposing views. Often, by the time a trendy cause begins falling out of fashion, those who have thought critically about the topic are only just beginning to solidify their informed opinion on the matter. While many of the popular movements do deserve support and funding, I think they also deserve thoughtful consideration. Has the organization allocated funds responsibly in the past? Has the country historically been a provoker of violence? What is the mission behind the current initiative, and what plan is in place to ensure it is brought to fruition? These are important questions to consider. I think so many are in a rush to be seen as a good, supportive global citizens that they forget their responsibility to make informed decisions.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but changing your social media profile picture or adding emojis to your headline isn’t going to end climate change, homophobic, or global conflict. Reading books on racism isn’t going to make it go away. Virtue signalling only serves to drown out and distract from our opportunities to take action. By creating the feeling that we’re “doing something,” we remove from ourselves the sense of obligation to better understand the issue at hand and address it in the most appropriate manner. Virtue signalling is shaping a generation of actively inactive activists with bullheadedly strong opinions. It leave no room for dialogue.
I’ll be the first to admit that my ten-year-old self was ignorant about the 1999 Kosovo War and its repercussions on the displaced families. Yet, I was guided to take action. I picked out cheery fabric, stitched it together, and shipped it across the world. As an adult, I still prioritize action, but it’s backed with thorough research and some critical thought.
So, here’s what we can do to actually make the world a bit better. Research causes that interest you, whether they make the headlines or not. Understand the mission of an organization or the history of a country. Be able to articulate both sides of an issue if there is any controversy. Choose a cause. Donate your time, money, or skills to that cause. Do so consistently. Share the cause and it’s mission with others, whether or not it’s currently trendy, to garner further support. Whatever cause you chose, commit to it. Stop virtue signalling and start taking action. Do something. As Ghandi would say, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And the last change we need is more emojis.