We can miss the good stuff, too. In Michigan, a bullied teenager was nominated for her high school homecoming as a prank. Apparently she stole the show on Friday night. A Royal Marine who lost both his legs in Afghanistan recently completed an Ironman Triathlon and plans to do it again. The good stories, like the bad, come and go, and we don’t often stop to look. A few days ago, I was reminded of the importance of stopping and looking.
Last week, Samar Yazbek spoke at Princeton. Yazbek is a Syrian writer and journalist and recently finished her book “A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution.” Translated from the original Arabic by a Princeton history professor, Max Weiss, its content is what you might expect. It would stand out in a bookshop no more or less than any other contemporary account of any other conflict. There are many other battles taking place in the Middle East and around the world. Why should the Syrian Revolution be particularly interesting?
It shouldn’t. But I went to Yazbek’s lecture, and now it is. She spoke in Arabic, and with all the anticipation and brokenness of a translated lecture, every second of her two-hour talk was gripping. She told her story with the candor and the emotion of an eyewitness. I walked out of that talk feeling a new attachment to the Syrian conflict. The picture had been painted of brave freedom fighters and a tyrannical government, and I knew which side I was now on.
In a media-dominated world, where information travels far faster than people themselves, you might think that this kind of experience is common. Stories of heroism and horror, bravery and badness spill across the front pages of newspapers and news websites every day. We are constantly exposed to every corner of the world. We share in those conflicts and triumphs as if we were also there. Don’t we?
Not really. Actually, we don’t know much at all.
Why should we care about Syria or a Michigan homecoming? If my plane doesn’t crash, why should I be worried about anyone else’s? If your parents, your sister, your friends and your pets are safe, why be concerned that mortars are touching down in Turkey? Read the feel-good stories in the local newspaper, and despair at the troubles that more directly affect you. That’s a pragmatic, human characteristic. It’s normal. Bombarded with the stories of seven billion other, distant people, why bother to sift through it all for anything more than interest’s sake?
Practically, this makes sense. We haven’t got time to know each country of the world intimately. But we can do more. The vastness of the modern world should not encourage languor and apathy but instead should open doors to the rest of the planet. Sure, we don’t have to be intimately involved in every single region of the world — that’s not possible. A broad international awareness, however, is crucial. Visit far-flung places, or at least learn from people who already have. Go to a lecture by someone like Samar Yazbek. Or just spend some more time on cnn.com. Maybe when you read that one human just blew up himself and 10 others, you should stop and think what that really means. One day, we will no longer be students. One day, we might be running the world. Take some time now to really get to know it. It’s worth it.
Phil Mooney is a sophomore from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the name of a University history professor. Max Weiss conducted the translation of a book written by a Syrian journalist. The 'Prince' regrets the error.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/02/31330/