I love dogs. My Facebook timeline is filled with photos of my sister’s dogs and cute dog videos, and it has always been a dream of mine to have my own pet dog.
A recent encounter with a local dog welfare organisation helped me understand the plight of mongrels, and it occurred to me that I could help save a life by adopting one.
Where previously I would only like these adoption posts on Facebook, I’ve realised that the bigger thing to do would be to open up my home to a mongrel. It’s hard to find one that’s of a size approved by the HDB, but I’m still looking.
It’s a step beyond providing support to a cause by merely liking Facebook posts about it.
In this age of social media, we’re constantly bombarded by social justice messages that highlight various disenfranchised groups which require assistance. Whether it’s racism, xenophobia, sexism, needy elderly or animal welfare, there isn’t a lack of social causes to support.
Just last week, Hollywood celebrities turned up at the Golden Globes red carpet dressed in black to show their support for the #MeToo movement and to protest against gender inequality in the industry.
But, noble as their efforts may be, it has sparked a discussion on what such symbolic protests actually achieve.
The New York Times writer, Jenna Wortham, argues that such gestures are empty because these people are just “passively waiting for the future to be better” which is a “luxury and a privilege”.
Wortham wrote: “There is something unsettling about how little these celebrities have to lose by taking these stances. They aren’t risking financial ruin, nor are they vulnerable to violence, as is the norm for most who take a bold position.”
While there’s an argument to be made for celebrities cashing in on their fame and status to bring hot button issues to the forefront of discussion, it isn’t wrong for people to ask for more than a symbolic show of solidarity.
Simply wearing black at the Globes could be seen as no different from slapping on that Facebook filter after the tragic Paris attacks followed by a sympathetic message. While the intention may be to show solidarity with a cause, it could remain just that – showing solidarity and providing nothing more by way of actual support.
Thankfully, though, these stars in black have put their money where their mouths are – they have fronted and donated to Time’s Up, a ground-up initiative to help and support victims of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
Many of us, however, seem content to advocate from the safety of our computers and smartphones. With a simple update on our social media, we post and share messages of support, coupled with a Facebook filter.
Such social media advocacy actually has its merits – it raises awareness of a situation that needs attention; it could draw enough attention to a problem so that people who are in a position to can actually help. It could also help the victims in such situations to be comforted by the fact that people know what’s going on and may actually open avenues for them to seek the help they need.
And while it is not at all a bad thing, it has been branded by some, perhaps unfairly, as an inaction called “slacktivism”.
How about taking this “slacktivism” a step further, where possible?
We feel sympathetic for elderly cardboard collectors and how they’re not receiving assistance.
We see the tissue paper auntie by the side of the road and wonder why her family isn’t supporting her.
We feel bad for the cleaners at hawker centres because they’re not getting enough respect from patrons.
Could we do something to help beyond making a social media post?
My colleagues have organised a mini donation drive in the office for cardboard collectors and personally delivered an assortment of food and necessities to their homes.
I have, on several occasions, given a small tip to the tissue paper aunty near my office, and have noticed others doing the same.
At hawker centres, we can all make it a point to clear the table after a meal and return the tray and tableware to the collection point.
Frankly, you don’t need global movements to galvanise you into action. Neither do you need big, grand gatherings at Hong Lim Park to show your solidarity. We can wear black, we can like every dog post on Facebook, we can post a status update with hashtags but can we do more than just spread the awareness, especially if there is already enough awareness of a cause?
How about channelling those precious minutes into actual activism and take concrete action?
Pick a cause you love and devote some time to it. Start by learning more about the issue so you can be an advocate the next time someone asks you about it. If you’re unable to be an authority on the topic, then encourage people to research and educate themselves.
The next step is to get involved, and I don’t mean just on social media. A hashtag and status update don’t provide any form of tangible assistance to the underprivileged.
By being involved, we can better understand and feel connected to the issues we claim to support. After all, it was after my serendipitous encounter with the mongrel welfare organisation that made me realise how I could actually help.
Activism starts with your willingness to be aware, to be educated and to move out of your comfort zone.
To quote Maya Angelou, a celebrated civil rights activist: “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.”
So, instead of liking every dog image I see on Facebook, I’ve started looking for volunteer opportunities at dog shelters, while I continue searching for a mongrel that is HDB-approved to adopt.
What about you?