Be the Change
We live in a world that faces a great many challenges. Some of those challenges are economic, others are social and others still are political. To complicate matters even further, they are all interlinked; poverty leads to crime leads to the deterioration of social structures, which leads to political instability, which leads to economic instability, which leads to environmental damage and so it goes but not necessarily in that order.
For me, the difficulty was in knowing where to begin. People were always telling me to “be the change you want to see in the world”. I thought that was a lovely sentiment. My only problem was that I want to see a lot of change in the world and it seemed slightly unrealistic that I could incarnate all of it at once.
And then an extraordinary thing happened on a very ordinary evening in New York City.
I attended a book signing by Benjamin Skinner, the author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend reading it.
What Skinner achieved both in his book and in his speech at the signing was to find hope in an apparently hopeless context. In the course of his research, Skinner literally did come face to face with horrific examples of enslavement and abuse. And yet despite the toll that it undoubtedly took on him, he emerged from the experience more determined than ever to combat trafficking and slavery.
But what really flipped the switch in my head was when Skinner quoted Stalin and said, “the death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”
The words resonated with me but more than that, they challenged me and they defied me. The death of millions should never be only a statistic. In order to effectively combat human trafficking among the many other ills in the world, we have to always be aware of our common humanity.
If we seek too much comfort in the sterility of statistics, we run the risk of forgetting that every victim of human trafficking has a life story; one that in the end isn’t so different from our own.
I’m sitting here writing this on a cold day in Central London. Somewhere in the world another young woman, the same age as me, has been trafficked and is experiencing horrors that I probably can’t even imagine.
But how different is she from me, really? If she’d had access to the same education and the same health care and the same family support as I had, who is to say what she might have accomplished?
Maybe she’d be a writer like me. Maybe she’d be a doctor or an artist or an astrophysicist.
It is the circumstances of the world that we live in, and accidents of birth that provide some of us with more security than others. But fundamentally, no one human life is worth more than another.
I left the tiny Asian restaurant where the book signing was held with a sense of purpose unlike any I’d known before. People choose different avenues to become the change that they want to see. Some join the Peace Corp or they become diplomats or advocates. Others volunteer locally or internationally.
Me, I’m a writer and I believe in the ability and the responsibility of writers and journalists to use their words to affect positive change. Before we even get down to the nuts and bolts of how to end human trafficking, we have to get people to pay attention and we have to get them to care.
There is a tendency – particularly in the Western world – to ignore things that happen “over there” or to “other people”. But when it comes to human trafficking, there is no “over there” or “other people.” It can happen in your back yard to you or some one that you know.
And even if it doesn’t – even does happen to a total stranger half way across the world – look in the mirror and ask yourself if that is justification enough to turn away and do nothing.
I can’t do nothing.
And I’m aware that I can’t end human trafficking by sheer force of will alone but I believe that there is transformational value in the process.
My goal is to tell the stories of the victims of human trafficking and of the people who dedicate their time and their lives to fighting against it. If I can do this in ways that move people to empathy and better still to action, I will have become one tiny piece of the change that I want to see.