This issue it was a struggle to come up with a topic for this editorial. I had a very busy weekend, was out sick for a few days, and then had a frantic catch-up when I returned. Though I am usually very interested in politics, news and current affairs, in the last few weeks it has sort of passed me by. I started looking up newspapers to get some ideas and nothing was familiar to me. I knew the characters but not the stories, like missing a series of Downton Abbey or going to the bathroom during Lost.
It can be very easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of your own life and forget about the wider issues of the world. What is the US Presidential election when you’re trying to figure out how to get to your nephew’s birthday party on public transport while carrying a 6 foot inflatable T-Rex? What are the events in Syria to having to meet your boyfriend’s family for the first time? World events are so much greater than the individual, yet the things happening in your own life will always take precedent. An essay deadline is not more important than war in the Middle East, but it is to you. However much you want to care, when real-life worries stack up it quickly shifts into the ‘not my problem’ part of your brain.
It’s also very easy to focus on particular aspects of news and forget about everything else. World events are not something that is easy to find out via osmosis. Even if you are an ardent watcher of 24-hour-news, you’ll come away with the feeling that one missing child in Surrey is far more important than the millions and millions of children worldwide dying from war and famine. All news coverage is down to the decision of the editor, and they may have a very different idea of what is important. There is also a culture of promoting stories the public will find interesting, rather than the stories the public need to know.
It’s even easier to be blinkered by your own interests and prejudices. As an atheist with few religious friends or family, I can forget for large periods of time that religion is even a thing, never mind an important issue for the majority of the globe. I’m probably even less connected to the phenomenon of religion than someone in an atheist community, as I’m not even actively fighting against the yoke of dominant religiosity. I don’t even know whether people I know are religious, it just never comes up. I’m lucky that I live somewhere where my beliefs, or lack of beliefs, cause no trouble, but it does further my disconnect from world events.
It would be nice to believe that this was just me, and I’m the only one who spends more time thinking about Downton Abbey than Syria but I suspect not. You see the disconnect everywhere, from low voter turnout to lack of participation in protests. Unless an issue directly affects you, regardless of whether you support something in theory, it’s difficult to make the effort to raise awareness, raise money or march in the streets. This is not just for the wider world, but even student issues face this disengage.
While students have traditionally been the most active group in promoting social and educational reform, the numbers who turn up to marches and events are usually underwhelming. While the issue of fees is vitally and pressingly important to those with financial problems, if you are lucky enough to have parents who can afford to pay for your education, then it can easily slide down your list of priorities. You may support the fight against fees, but do you support it enough to get out of bed on a winter morning to march through town? Do you even support it enough to send letters to your TD?
We need to re-examine our priorities. While you have to live your life as best you can, the rest of the world is important. While it may feel like these issues don’t affect you, in the much grander scheme of things, they do. Whether it’s because fees spiral out of control preventing even the fairly well off from being able to participate in third level education, or simply that your friend’s grades suffer when they have to work two part time jobs in order to afford to live, you are affected.
We need to re-examine our priorities and decide that regardless of our current financial state, this is a personal issue. Fees and service cuts affect us all by compromising our generation’s education and future prospects. This is a problem, and further more, it’s our problem. We all need to make the effort to support fellow students in the fight for educational rights no matter what else we have going on in our lives. We need to send the letters, put up the posters and attend the marches. Even if it is snowing out or really early in the morning.