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Outside the Bubble

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 10/13/2015

In early August, as part of my Turkey trip I found myself standing on the beaches in both Bodrum and Izmir. I was struck by the absolute beauty of the Mediterranean. I marveled at the palpable sense of community I saw among the Turks who were socializing, talking, swimming, and playing. At one point I even slipped into a reverie about the ancient Greeks, the Byzantines, the Romans....

What wasn’t on my mind were the refugees from the war in Syria. But no more than a week later, news media was dominated by datelines from… Bodrum and Izmir. We all watched with horror at the boatloads of Syrians trying to make their way from those two cities to the Greek Islands.

I’ve thought a lot about this since then—my, frankly, profound ignorance about the crisis occurring almost within my sight. If I’d been paying attention, would I have noticed that there were people on the beach whose thoughts weren’t about the sun and the waves? Would I have noticed that some people on the beach were focused instead on their very survival and were grieving for lost homes and family members?

It reminds me of how often we walk through our lives, not noticing or not paying attention to the crises and needs around the corner. In my work, I’m confronted with these issues every day. I’m reminded all the time about the needs in housing, about food insecurity, about lack of economic prospects, about climate change and the devastation it is wreaking.

But I’m also in a bubble—as are we all. Far too often we don’t really see what’s around us. We know that we need to think outside of ourselves and our immediate surroundings, but that’s easier said than done when there are so many problems in front of us. At our annual meeting in September, Robert Putnam talked about his book, and shared data about the growing opportunity gap in America. “I will buy dinner for everybody in this room,” he said, “if I cannot find within 10 minutes of this gathering people who are struggling for survival.” Nobody took him up on his wager.

In early November, we at the Vermont Community Foundation will be releasing the next version of our Understanding Vermont report. In that report, we’ll be talking about critical needs in our state. And even as we do that, I know that identifying critical issues now is not the full answer. We will act on our report, and hope others will, too.

But even more broadly, I want to remind myself about bubbles. I want to make sure I remember that only a couple months ago, I was standing on a beautiful beach, ignorant to the needs of people standing next to me. 

(For those of you moved to act on the Syria refugee crisis, I recommend the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s website. You can find more information here.)

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