Christopher Lasek – European Affairs Analyst
Your Voice | Don’t forget the little guys
For most people who enter the world of politics and international relations the drive and desire is relatively simple – we want to change the world and make it a better place.
We spend years sitting in classrooms earning our degrees, dissecting the problems of the world and analysing how conflicts can be resolved. Most of us in our spare time will read widely and deeply on the subject probing further and further gaining as much knowledge as we can in the hopes that one day we can use what we have learned to improve the world in some small way.
However, there remains an overbearing problem with the way we approach International Relations .
This problem being the ease of which one gets caught up in the theory and science of the topic. The problem then tends to be amplified in the case of individuals like myself from Australia.
The ivory tower
From our unique geographic and political perspective the problems of the world are far away and easy to solve; open the borders and allow people in, it’s simple – intervene, or, end policy X, it’s stupid and immoral.
We tend to even fall into the fallacy that we have experienced the culture of a country and believe we know the problems when we visit far-flung countries as tourists. When in actual fact when we visit a country we’re always seeing a very thin slice of the bigger picture. We tour destroyed castles, eat some local cuisine in a restaurant too expensive for the locals, and check off all the biggest tourist attractions believing we suddenly ‘know the culture’.
This realisation of how little we actually know of a nation becomes palpable to oneself once you understand the language and break bread with a local family living in a regular apartment block. Suddenly you see the world through their eyes. The problems and joys of the world for them are much the same as what we experience at home. They’re proud of the achievements their children make, no matter how small, they worry about bills and employment, and no matter where you go they always think public transport could be better. The everyday is much the same – renovations on a new apartment, shopping to be done, work to get to. But no matter how little or how much they have people are always proud to show to you what they have and how happy their life is.
We get caught up in high political affairs that we miss the actual people at the centre of politics, the people we are doing this all for. People don’t want much in this life, safety security and happiness but we get so caught up thinking they want democracy and freedom that we miss or ignore it. As Westerners the tendency is to travel the world and see a whole family of 4 living in a 2 bedroom apartment and think “how can they possibly be happy!” We see families still tilling the soil and living off the land and instantly jump to the idea that these people are dying for a new supermarket to make their lives easier. As students and young professionals in politics and international relations we are so desperately trying to dissect and analyse the problems of the world, quantifying and qualifying everything, seeking to explain events and decisions through the lens of complex theories which seem simple to us but are in fact overly convoluted.
This in itself isn’t a bad thing that we try to understand the world and so desperately want to make it a better place. However the problems arise when we forget about the people at the centre of it all, the everyday people who couldn’t care less who’s in power but who do care that they can work to give their family food and shelter. They care that their children are safe and secure. They care about supporting their partner and showing them love and kindness. Travelling to a foreign country to “experience the world” is an amazing thing, something that should be admired and something everyone should do. But the world suddenly becomes a smaller place when you understand a foreign language, and can hear a basic conversation on the street or understand a TV show, or can engage in conversation with local people. You suddenly realise that the political problems that we see consuming a country on TV aren’t always as important as we perceive them and it is rather the everyday people are more worried about.
The former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local”. When one truly experiences the language and culture of a foreign nation it suddenly becomes clear how true this phrase is. At the end of the day international relations isn’t about changing States, rather it is about helping the individual but it should always be remembered just how alike the people of the world are but at the same time how incredible different we all are. Once this is brought into political thinking true change can begin in the world.
Christopher Gordon Lasek is a writer with the Global Quorum. You can check out his older pieces here, where he discusses European Affairs and the threats of global terrorism.
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