False Promises, Real Egotism
By Denise Hotta Moung, Contributing Columnist
Published on Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Besides the obvious tragedy of Myanmar's current state, the most unfortunate part of the situation is what it reveals to us about the nature of human beings. It was both disturbing and humorous to read articles outing the Myanmar regime as corrupt -- as if this were something that should surprise us. Forget the decades in which military soldiers would raid villages and repeatedly rape women and children. Forget the thousands killed during the 1988 student uprisings. Forget the millions left broke after Burmese dictator Ne Win decided small notes were not legitimate money. Forget all of that. Myanmar needed a massive natural disaster for the world to truly acknowledge the extremity of the junta's repressive regime. The absurdity of this revealed a truth that most are unwilling to admit: At the foundation of our decisions generally lie selfish intentions.
What ultimately drives our actions is a sense of selfishness that exists in the majority of us. With the prospect of self-gain, we are more than willing to lend a helping hand. Without it, most of us remain impartial.
On a more relatable scale, this philosophy is applicable to the idea of community service. While we proclaim our selfless desires to help those less fortunate, we forget to mention that our philanthropic deeds usually facilitate our resumÃ©s and transcripts. We selfishly gain from these activities despite our claim that we are acting purely on altruistic notions.
During a service trip to South Africa, many of my peers vowed to return to the child center where we worked. They labeled the trip a life-changing experience, one that would force them to act differently. These idealistic notions lasted a good week and a half before we all returned to our own lives. We promised these kids that we would return and keep in touch. But in reality, none of us did.
The problem with this cycle is that by pretending our actions are selfless, we are giving people false hope that regardless of what we get in return, we will come rushing to their side.
The same applies to Myanmar, a nation that has suffered immensely under military rule. Because Myanmar could not offer much in resources to most countries, garnering significant attention was highly unlikely and an invasion was out of the question. Yet for 40 years, Burmese citizens held on to the hope that the outside world would come to their aid and help them escape the oppressive regime that dictated their lives.
This is not to say that meddling in foreign affairs is desirable. In fact, the failures of Iraq and Vietnam should discourage such interference. Countries should be cautious to rely on the United States to resolve their own internal issues and the United States should not promote the misleading idea that it will unconditionally come running to a country's aid.
When the United States first invaded Iraq, American citizens were given various reasons for why we were sending troops into the Middle East. Skeptics of the Iraq War often point to a dependence on foreign oil as the root catalyst for the U.S. invasion. John McCain recently proposed an energy policy that would "eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East [and] that will prevent us from having to ever send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East." He later clarified that he was not referring to the current war in Iraq, but instead to the Gulf War. (I assumed McCain was referring to something that was current, something relevant, something that wasn't old. Silly me.) Regardless of what McCain meant by his statements, most would agree that the resources Iraq had to offer at least helped push an invasion.
These selfish needs do not make us bad people -- they make us human. We cannot avoid them. What we can avoid, though, are the false promises we make to other communities. By making these promises, we are left with people waiting for help that most likely will not come. The idea of our world united as one is cute, but it is far from the truth. In our attempts to hide our selfishness, we create grandiose ideas of how willing we are to offer a helping hand. We give people and countries a vow that we will help no matter what. Until we are ready to live up to these promises and admit our egotism, we must relinquish our desires to be perceived as noble human beings.