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First of all, dear reader, let me say: congratulate yourself. This wasn’t an easy year to get through, and you’ve (just about) gotten through it. Next year, well, that will have its own challenges—and we’ll deal with those as best we can, as we did this year.
There are plenty of challenges upcoming, and many of them are global in nature, from climate change to the refugee crisis to the ongoing erosion of democracy and democratic institutions. The increased prevalence of parochial, nationalistic movements that we’ve been seeing around the planet in recent years is in some ways a reaction against our increasing diversity and interconnectedness. The Steve Bannons of the world envision a future of largely homogenous nations, insulated and isolated from one another, but such a future would leave us ill-equipped to coordinate and cooperate in ways that might address these global crises adequately.
On the other hand, many other people have responded to these same developments with the recognition that there are universal human values, and that cooperation in realizing those values is not only possible, but essential—in short, that there are matters that transcend our differences, our disagreements and our (largely artificial) borders.
I would like to suggest that, as you are planning your end-of-the-year charitable giving, that you consider “...without borders” as a theme.
In 1968, a group of French medical professionals became involved in providing emergency care to patients in the southern Nigerian province of Biafra after that province had seceded. This group later became the now-iconic Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or as they are known in English, Doctors Without Borders (www.doc torswithoutborders.org). Now working in more than 70 countries, this group provides “independent, impartial and neutral” medical assistance and care to people in conflict and emergency zones, “irrespective of gender, race, religion, creed, or political convictions.” They also bear witness to human rights abuses and war crimes. Their work earned the organization a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
Many other humanitarian groups have since adopted the phrase “Without Borders” as part of their names and their philosophies. For example, Musicians Without Borders (www.musicianswithoutborders.org), based in the Netherlands, “use music as a tool to build connections, foster empathy and shape communities… [and] as a means to address the needs of societies divided and affected by conflict.”
One of my favorite causes is Clowns Without Borders (clownswithoutborders.org). The mission of this jolly group is “to relieve the suffering of all persons, especially children, who live in areas of crisis including refugee camps, conflict zones and other situations of adversity” by bringing small groups of clowns and other circus performers into communities to present shows and workshops.
But there are many other such groups, some practical and some artistic, from engineers, architects and builders to knitters, potters and even surfers. I would also like to direct your special attention, in these days when journalists and their role in holding power accountable are being targeted, to Reporters Without Borders (rsf.org/en), “one of the world’s leading NGOs in the defense and promotion of freedom of information.” In 2018, 63 journalists, 14 citizen journalists and five media assistants were killed because of their work, with perhaps the most notable happening recently, with the death of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
Whichever holidays you observe, whatever your pronouns, whichever causes most pull of your heart, I hope this holiday season is fulfilling for you and that you look for causes that unite, rather than divide.