Stranger and stranger. As the Kony 2012 saga unfolds, who would have thought in their wildest dreams that this is where the campaign would be two weeks after release? Well over 100 million views and a personal tragedy unfolding in the form of a diminished reputation, ironically all because of the popularity won only the week before. No one could have seen this coming. Especially not even Jason Russell.
To recap, here was my earlier post about Kony 2012 and my thoughts are unchanged from what I observed then. I still think there is a huge opportunity to be gained by asking the right questions, and I also believe that Jason Russell ought to continue to play a role in that conversation.
Injustice is wrong. Here are a lesson I think we can all take away from Kony 2012, noting that there is still some distance for this campaign to run. Is it conceivable that the most viral video in history can now just disappear quietly in the face of criticism and personal issues?
Let me make myself clear. Injustice is wrong. Always. Inexcusable. But myself as a Christian, I believe that it is more important to seek mercy than it is to seek justice. There is so much wrong with this world, and more importantly there is so much wrong with our own lives. Mercy is a concept not used in our society often except in extreme circumstances, like when someone’s (usually your own or someone you love) life is at risk.
The premise of Kony 2012 was that Joseph Kony is a bad man and must be brought to justice. The way this was going to occur was through Western intervention, both by the deployment of US military assets, but more importantly through mobilising celebrities around the cause.
The Ugandan Prime Minister provided an honourable response to Kony 2012, agreeing that injustice is wrong, but also highlighting some of the facts were either misleading, incorrect or both.
More importantly, how exactly does mercy trump justice in this situation? Is it really possible to completely end the situation involving child soldiers and the appalling use of rape as a weapon of war? This will not come about by the arrest of Joseph Kony, nor by the arrest of the top 100 most wanted on the ICC hit list (whoever those people are). People are capable of terrible things. Even the little I was exposed due during my time in the Army and managing our limited involvement in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, showed me that this situation is endemic. Even if the whole planet watched the Kony 2012 video, this situation would remain in some form.
I want to write a little more about Kony 2012 at a later post in relation to The Theory of Change, and what I have learnt from observing. Enough to say for now that a methodology based around enforcing justice just does not work. We need an outcome-based approach seeking mercy for the innocent women and children involved. Focusing on mercy ought to drive the search for a solution.
There is a more important reason for addressing the need for mercy above justice. The tragedy which unfolded with the detaining of Jason Russell was met with cynical views, delight from others, mockery, from some indignation. The intellectual cynicism around this Kony 2012 has been astounding. Here is a campaign that has set a new benchmark for what is possible, and possibly also framed a new discussion around what is ethical. The method and framing might have needed further work, and I want to write about that when I discuss The Theory of Change. Everyday in our cities, we are bombarded with ‘charity muggers’: people who are paid to solicit collections from people on street corners (who are paid for their work) using highly emotive and often misleading information. Because those happen on a smaller scale, maybe we are less provoked, and therefore less likely to cut down the tall poppy as has been the case with Kony 2012. There is a lot of things not right about the campaign, but if we only ever criticised everything nothing would ever get done. It is disturbing with the speed at which it did pick up a following suggesting that we have an alarming capacity to digest whatever is put in front of us as long as it looks real.
I don’t agree with everything that Jason Russell has said and done. I don’t know all the facts of what took place when he was detained after the very public incident last weekend. I do know this: any sort of personal meltdown should not be treated with glee, but with compassion and mercy.
I was once in a long-term relationship with a woman who was bipolar. I never saw her episodes myself, but knew enough about her behaviour to know when she was not well. Her extreme episodes (which I did not witness but knew the details of) were not dissimilar to the type of events involving Jason Russell. This is a common occurrence for many people. Mental health illness is more common than most people might appreciate. It is especially a tragedy because of the irony that the high profile has given to his personal life receiving undue interest (regardless of whether he designed himself to be in the centre or not).
Injustice is wrong. Yes, Joseph Kony is a bad man who deserves to be taken off the battlefield. But regardless the level of intellectual cynicism people might have toward Kony 2012, does anyone think it is just that Jason Russell receive intense personal scrutiny when at a difficult time. We have become so fickle with social media. I am not proposing that we do not criticise IC or Kony 2012. But we do need to understand that responding with mercy trumps justice every time. This is more about our own lives than anything to do with Jason Russell.