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Maybe a Different Perspective Will Help

Back in 2006, I wrote a blog post on my old website about North Korea in an attempt to put things in some perspective for those of us in North America.  We tend to see North Korea as an extremist nation with a crazy leader (both the current Kim Jong Un and his father… and his grandfather I suppose) and that may be true.  There are plenty of reasons for North Americans to dislike the North Korean government but I don’t think we really understand what life must be like for the people of North Korea.

With continued war, natural disasters, UN sanctions and a lack of natural resources, North Korean people do not enjoy the same luxuries that we do.  I don’t condone the nuclear program in North Korea but I also don’t condone the UN sanctions.  Witholding food and aid does nothing but hurt the already struggling people of the country and I really don’t think that sending boatloads of biscuits is the answer to easing tensions.

North Korea is a country that has been at war for the better part of the last 100 years.  They have been relatively peaceful with South Korea for decades but officially, the 2 countries are still at war as no peace treaty was ever signed.  In the 1990’s North Korea suffered severe famine due to weather and farming practises that are pretty much archaic. It is estimated that as many as 3 million people died during the famines of the 1990’s.  Imagine that happening where you live.  Imagine your friends and neighbours starving to death and you are watching it happen struggling to just stay alive yourself.  Imagine that other countries are trying to force you to abandon technical advances like nuclear power while you are struggling to live from on day to the next.

North Korea relies heavily on foreign aid.  The country has been heavily hit by severe storms, mudslides and is prone to natural disasters.  In 2006, storms and mudslides resulted in more than 100 people reported dead or missing.  More than 10,000 homes were destroyed and at least 9000 families homeless.  Imagine the frustration you would feel when the rest of the world wants to shut you out.  Imagine the anger you would feel as you are forced to suffer and watch others around you suffer.

Denying aid to North Korea is not helping to bring an end to any political tensions. It’s an attempt to break the spirit of the country and it does nothing but cause ordinary people like you and me to suffer.  It forces children to go hungry with no home to go to.  Imagine someone doing that to you and your family.

As I said earlier, I certainly don’t condone the missile tests or the production of nuclear weapons but in the world today, it is the countries capable of waging war that are prosperous.  The countries with military power can demand and they receive.  North Korea has been a have-not country for so long that I imagine they just want to enjoy some of the simple things that we take for granted every day like feeling safe and secure.  I know it sounds a little crazy but what if the rest of the world reached out with some kindness and compassion?  The last 60 years of war, sanctions and broken promises haven’t done much to make the situation better.  Einstein, who was a pretty smart guy, said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  Maybe to North Koreans the rest of the world seems insane.  For decades we have promised to help North Korea and have backed out on those promises, we have manipulated and lied (read up on the US claims of North Korea moving nuclear material to Lybia in 2003) and yet we somehow think that North Korea is going to abandon nuclear weapon testing and just decide to live peacefully with the rest of the world.  The same world that demonstrates time and time again that nations with military power and weapons have a better standard of living.  Doesn’t that sound even more insane than starving people wanting to be able to feed their families and have a good life?

What if we tried a completely different approach?  Maybe we would see a different result.

Earning a Soapbox

I’m sure that most people reading this post have an account on facebook.  I’m sure that most of you have also seen something like this posted at some point during your time on facebook:

facebook_complain

I can’t really comment on this because I realize that foreign policy and immigration are things that I just don’t understand at the political level.  From a human perspective I can relate to all of these statements and I feel sympathetic.  I am well aware of the homelessness issue in my country (by the way, this image originated in Australia).  I am certainly aware of how expensive it can be to get the proper medications even when you live in a country with universal health care.  My Son has type 1 diabetes and the costs after the portion the government pays for is around $1500 per year.  That’s considerably cheap compared to what other people have to pay for their necessary medication.  I can understand all of these things and I can’t necessarily disagree that we have a lot of problems in this world.  What I can’t understand is how people can be so brave to post this on facebook or pound their fist in the coffee shop complaining about how we need to change these things.  OK, maybe brave isn’t the right word but I’m reluctant to use the word lazy.

Folks, I think that everyone has a right to their own soapbox to stand on and talk about issues like these but I firmly believe that you have to earn your soapbox.  I have to wonder, of all the people who “had the guts” to post this, did any of them have the guts to volunteer time at a homeless shelter or even take a homeless person out of the cold and buy them a coffee or even a meal?  Have any of them organized a fund raiser to help elderly folks pay for medications?  Have any of them also complained about having to pay taxes that are used to fund the troops and ensure that they have proper equipment and benefits?  Have any of them spoken to an immigrant to understand why they came to our country and what issues they might be facing?  For all of the problems we have in our own country we are comparatively well off and I think I would feel horrible if we told the poorer nations that there is nothing we can do to help especially knowing that we depend on the well being of every nation for our continued prosperity.

I am far from being the most socially conscious person but I have adjusted my work schedule to free up time to volunteer in my own community.  I have become friends with a number of immigrant folks and I am so thankful that I have never had to live through some of the horror they have seen.  I admire their bravery in leaving their lives behind to ensure the safety of their children and I am thankful that my country has been able to offer them some safety although, with anti-immigrant attitudes I can’t say that we have been comforting.  Even with the little bit that I have done there are people out there who do far more than I could ever do.  At the same time, there are people who will complain about all of these issues and then complain that nobody is doing anything about it.

We all have a responsibility to one another on a global scale.  We have to stop thinking about our own little bubble and think about the world around us.  We can’t let ourselves be satisfied with re-posting an image on facebook and thinking that we’ve done some brave deed that is going to help change the world.  We need to roll up our sleeves and give something of ourselves to our communities.  I live in a province of 1 million people… very small.  If everyone in this province made the commitment to dedicate one hour of each week to giving something back to their community we would contribute 52 million hours per year to improving our province.  That is the equivalent of adding 32,000 full time jobs dedicated to improving our province.  The government can never do something that huge.  We have the power to do it and we have the power to make a difference.  The questions is, are we brave enough to sacrafice one hour per week to change the world for the better?