There’s something to be said about avoiding the hypocritical advice-giving, where you point out the pitfalls or downsides of another person, event, culture, or system while knowing full well that yours acts or has acted in a similar way. But self-examination and pointing out improvements elsewhere aren’t mutually exclusive activities.
One of the things that has plagued me is the history of my culture and the actions of my predecessors as Europeans and Canadians. At a point I have to recognise the past and the responsibility of owning that heritage, but also move forward with the reflections that can be gained, learning and sharing. Just because my culture has failed doesn’t mean we have to stop there, pack up shop and keep our mouths shut when we see similar situations in the future.
Example: Human rights abuses. White people have written the book on this, yet how can we continue to criticise other governments about crimes against humanity when our record as modern sovereign states looks pretty tarnished ourselves? How is it that we can call out the leaders of Burma, Sri Lanka, and Sudan when our own in Canada and the USA are perhaps only a little sneakier but no less guilty (or maybe just answer to a more complacent population)? I think that while raising awareness about these issues doesn’t in any way absolve our own guilt as citizens directly supporting abusive governments, our governments’ actions should not legitimize human rights abuses elsewhere.
Example: Poverty in Vancouver. I often come up against the question of why we work overseas when we have acute problems in our own backyard? The downtown eastside has the lowest standard of living in North America, and is neatly juxtaposed against some of the most expensive area codes on our continent. How can we have the gall to say we can offer partnership and guidance to poverty relief elsewhere when we have such glaring problems ourselves? Firstly, it’s a question of scale and relative poverty. While in no way acceptable still, the impoverished in Vancouver have a relatively large and well-knit safety net compared to the majority of impoverished places that EWB works in. There are approximately 18,000 people living in the DTES neighbourhood, but many of these people aren’t on the streets. Compare to those in Southern Province, Zambia where a large portion of hundreds of thousands of people live without a consistent source of clean water, extremely limited economic growth and job opportunity, and virtually no access to adequate health care.
Still, both of these issues are ones that I try to influence both in Canada and outside, and I really don’t believe in the assertion that because you have problems at home you shouldn’t offer what you can to those elsewhere, because that knowledge-sharing could still be useful, with the right partnerships and connections. And in the end all of these issues interact with each other, and the sphere of influence is no longer limited so much by lack of access, but more lack of effort to make contact.