I’m just back from the first night of the Stanford leg of the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF). From the opening documentary about the atrocities, lies, deceit and mystery surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, where respect for individual human life was almost non-existent, to the incredible work of a team of dedicated doctors and nurses in a Lesotho HIV/AIDS clinic where respect for individual human life could not have been greater, the immense diversity of the worlds problems were really driven home. Sandwiched between these two incredible films was a third, made up of 5-minute snapshots of six ordinary people who fought – and won – environmental battles in their communities armed with just passion, commitment, drive and a sense of injustice.
If there are two things that I came away with tonight from the festival, they’re this. When you’re overdosed with visual images of suffering, despair and corruption like many of the audience tonight, the problems of the world seem totally overwhelming. But this can also help put things in perspective, and force us to look more closely at ourselves, how we live our lives, how effectively we focus our own individual efforts, and why so many people turn a blind eye to everything happening around them. Each and every life has value, yet we sometimes lose this in a world where scalability and sustainability rule and the shear numbers of real people suffering is lost in the huge numbers thrown at us by the statisticians. For the young boy who was told at the Tsepong Clinic in Lesotho that his father was dying (captured in the photo above), only one thing mattered. And it wasn’t statistics.
It was Margaret Mead who once famously said that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. It is with that comforting thought that I drift off to sleep tonight.