Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 3 September 2009

That the World May Know

today i finished reading James Dawes’ incredibly compelling book That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity. the link accesses my goodreads review, so i won’t go into what i’ve already written.

i found the book inspirational, even in its most horrific and disturbing moments depicting torture and genocide. i have long been convinced that what makes us human is our capacity for storytelling – and perhaps storytelling that reveals the worst in mankind is the most important storytelling of all. Dawes does a brilliant job investigating the essential tension of the artist/humanitarian who must resolve the need to speak for others against the guilt and difficulty of being a witness, a non-participant.

one of my long-term goals is to work as a poetic translator. my reasons for wanting to do so touch on the themes of this book: to bridge cultural divides, to open up the stories of others to new audiences, to make the world better. i’ve also considered the possibility of someday volunteering as a yoga instructor (perhaps with an organization that serves people in developing nations – i haven’t researched the matter much yet, it’s a ways away for me still). it’s important to me to find ways to do good in this world with as little imposition as possible, and these seem to me like viable options. one of the examples that Dawes brings up is that of the Hezbollah, whose members are hooded when they distribute supplies and aid to individual homes in the middle of the night; a stark contrast to UN convoys with their attendant news and publicity machinery that pass out food to lines of people in broad daylight. there are compromises involved in giving, and it is important to maintain the dignity of all parties. but then, are these small ideas of mine really worth it, really enough?

the shape of my life has changed dramatically this year. i think this book has fallen into my hands at the right time, at a time when i want to find something to hold onto. i have few things to tie me down now, and anticipate even less in the future. i’m wondering if this is a moment where the universe is telling me: do more than you dreamed you can do.



  1. […] university library or some such.) seriously? YOGA FOR HUMANITARIAN AID WORKERS. you may recall from an earlier blog post that i’ve been thinking about humanitarian aid already this year. i’ll be thinking […]

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