There is a meme going around where the child, in a painting that evokes Normal Rockwell, asks the father “What did you do during the pandemic, daddy?” to which the father replied “I just kept posting memes and everything worked out”. With the insurrection in the USA in early January, to the Black Lives Matter movement, the continuing challenges of climate change and securing a planet for future generations, and the current threat of the pandemic, it is easy to sometimes feel helpless and do as the father does – share memes expressing the ridiculous nature of the situation.

And humour is important. We have to laugh – it is an important mechanism to keep the body and mind healthy.

But is that all we can do? What else can we do to play our part, to actively participate?

The message from the authorities is that we can all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing facemasks, keeping our distance from each other and sanitizing our hands before and after touching surfaces. This is simple. This is a very low bar. Everyone should be able to do this (and yet there are always some who think a facemask should only cover their mouth, or worse, only their chin!). When we are asked to avoid social interactions (such as in lockdown), we can avoid meeting friends and family even though we suspect they are free of the virus.

What about climate change? We can all ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ and avoid unnecessary consumption, particularly of products that end up in landfill and which will never degrade or decompose. We can fly less. Use public transport more. Insulate our houses and other buildings. Reduce our consumption of meat (and so reduce factory farming).

What about some of the less tangible things though? How can we show we are in support of human rights, that we believe completely in the need for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging? That we support those who have been victims of discrimination and prejudice? And how can we show how certain behaviours are unacceptable – whether they are by racists or insurrectionists – whether they are by people who focus on spreading hate, intolerance and stamping on the ‘others’ – whichever ‘other’ they happen to hate?

For decades, students were always political and would go on demonstrations. In the 1950s and 1960s there would be big protest movements to ban the (nuclear) bomb and to stop the Vietnam war. Since then then number of causes has, of course, increased and sadly we live in a world where there are multiple dictatorial regimes abusing its own citizens, whether based on their political beliefs, their religion, their ethnicity, sexuality or gender. A quick look through the cases that Amnesty International is focusing on can make for very sobering reading. Save the Children, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, Stand Up to Racism – there are so many great NGOs and charities doing work to try and make the world a better place for the downtrodden, those at the bottom of the pyramid. So what can you do?

You could demonstrate of course, when the time comes that we can do it safely. It is important that people, both politicians, the media and the general public, see that most people do stand up for decency. You could actively help, Amnesty International, for example, asks supporters to write letters. That’s all. Letters! You could give money, of course. All charities need that – they still need money to operate.

And, of course, you can think about everything you do. Are you living your life that will help those who need it? Are you someone that is making a positive difference, not only to those around you, but to society as a whole? Every issue has those two sides, so do ask yourself. Now. As students. Do you want to be part of the solution, or part of the problem? And what are you going to do about it?


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