Are We the World?

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Ever since the earthquake struck Haiti my family has been busy raising money. My daughters have baby-sat and helped at bake sales; we’ve mailed off cheques. So please understand, what follows is not mean to discourage anyone’s fundraising efforts.

Nevertheless, I have to admit to finding the remake of “We Are The World” strange. I first heard the original song in the mid-80s when celebrities joined together to rescue Ethiopia. Now it’s out again as singers croon for Haiti. Their hearts, I believe, are in the right place.

However, as I listen to the “we are the children” chorus, I am struck by something. It’s actually a grammar query, but I have faith that you can figure it out. Sing the chorus to yourself, and then answer this question: who is the subject in the majority of phrases?

It’s “we”. The song is supposed to be about people who are suffering, but instead it’s actually a song about how we feel about the people who are suffering, and how we can make a difference, and how we feel about the fact that we can make a difference. It’s a song glorifying us!

Does anyone else find that a bit jarring? First of all, we aren’t the children. I think the point they’re poetically trying to make is that those children are no different from us, so we should give. Yet would it matter if they were different from us? Shouldn’t we give anyway? No matter which way you look at it, the reference point in this song is us, not those who need help.

We’re the ones who make a better day, just you and me! We can sing about ourselves and feel better about ourselves because we care about others who are just like ourselves.

It’s a perfect metaphor for what has happened in our society over the last few decades. As the idea of objective truth has grown passé, it’s been replaced by the ultimate idea that our feelings are the proper arbiter for the goodness or rightness of anything. Truth is what feels right to us.

At one point, people believed in a higher morality, even if they themselves weren’t religious. People gave generously, or volunteered, or lent a hand, because it was the right thing to do. They didn’t have to be convinced to do it because it would make them feel good about themselves; they did it simply because it was the right thing to do, and doing the right thing mattered.

We no longer believe in “the right thing” as much as we believe in “the right thing for me”. I am the reference point, and everything revolves around me. We aren’t then honouring the poor in Haiti; we’re actually diminishing their humanity by saying they aren’t important in and of themselves; they’re only important inasmuch as they remind us of ourselves. We can only have sympathy for those who are like us, because our world has been reduced to what we want and what we think.

Even worse, if it’s really about us, and we decide we don’t want to do the right thing, who’s to say that’s wrong? If we don’t want to stay married, or be bothered to be good parents, or care for our parents or neighbours, then that’s our prerogative!

The world is bigger than you and me. Yes, it’s noble to give because we think of people as just like us. But isn’t it nobler to give simply because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of how it reflects on us? When we stop looking so much at ourselves, and start looking at others, perhaps then we will make a brighter day, and a brighter world.

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