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“Raised Awareness”

Something I’m pondering and want to go on about.

I just read the wishlist of a young woman who wants, for Christmas, to raise awareness about a couple of serious issues, like prematurity and domestic violence.

Now, I’m all for dealing with serious issues, but I don’t think that raising awareness is really necessary for everything.

Do we really need to raise awareness about breast cancer? No, we do not. If you’re alive in the 21st century Western world and you don’t know what a pink ribbon stands for, you really need to get out more. If you’re a woman over the age of 18 and don’t know that you should be doing monthly breast exams, then you need to kick your parents and private school teachers in the legs for allowing you to grow up this stupid. If you’re a (straight) man over the age of 18 and you don’t know that the week after your girlfriend or wife’s period is the perfect time to feel her up, then you really, really ought to think about your priorities.

What we need for breast cancer is not awareness. What we need is a fucking cure. So, screw “raising awareness” about breast cancer. I think you should only wear pink ribbons if you’ve personally been responsible for raising $1000 or more in money spent on curing the disease. Or in treating the disease (yes, that includes survivors and their families).

Instead of wishing for “raised awareness” about an issue, I think I would wish for something about the world to change to make that issue no longer there. For instance, instead of wishing for raised awareness about the plight of blacks in the South, Martin Luther King went out and did something about it, and encouraged millions of other people to do something. The world is not the same as a result. The South, for all its flaws and continuing race problems, is not the same place as it was before. Not only did the laws change, but the people did as well. Problems get solved when people change. When it is no longer somewhat embarrassing or annoying to do a breast self-exam, there will be earlier detection. Perhaps, more to the point, when we’ve learned the causes and prevention of breast cancer, and find it socially unacceptable to engage in those behaviors (like, say, smoking….) then we will have changed the world and stamped out most breast cancers (I do believe that there are multiple factors in cancer, and one of them is genetics– sometimes you lose the DNA dice shoot).

And while I’m on the subject of “raising awareness,” let’s talk about what too much awareness about a Serious Issue does:

• It makes us feel bad. “I should be doing more.”
• It provokes apathy. “I can’t care about everything.”
• It creates a false sense of responsibility.
It reduces awareness of other Serious Issues.

Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?

It makes us feel bad. How many times have you received a phone call, usually during the dinner hour, from a telemarketer working for some non-profit organization, begging you for money? Sure, you’re on the Do Not Call list, but charities are exempt from that list. As the telemarketer goes into their script about how important the Fireman’s Widows and Orphans fund is, all you can think about is how sad you feel about children whose fathers died fighting fires. What a rotten thing to think about just as your sitting down to dinner! Not only that, but if you’re not watching escapist TV, then you’re watching either a crime/cop/drama show, or the news– none of which is condusive to proper digestion.

It’s not that you shouldn’t think about these things. It’s that there is a proper time and place for doing so, and that time and place is when you’re paying the bills or doing the household accounting, you’ve paid the bills and set aside an appropriate amount to cover long-term bills like your property taxes, and holed away a small amount into your savings account. At the end of the month, you have a little bit left over which you then write out to the charities you’ve researched and believe in.

It provokes apathy. The above statement is exactly what I’m talking about. Who the heck has any money left at the end of the month to give to charity anyway? Who has time to do the research? Unless a charitable cause is actually helping you or someone you love, or producing tangible results, the chances are you won’t care that much about them in six months.

And none of these issues produces tangible results. Not really. Do we have a cure for breast cancer? We do not. We have a vaccine against cervical cancer, which is astounding– but who knew before that study came out that it would have such amazing results? That’s an organization to send money to!

We all learned after 9/11 that an overwhelm of emotional stimuli deadens us to the emotions. After a short time of feeling bad about not doing more for the orphans, don’t you just want to shrug and say “someone else needs to take it up– I’ve done my part.”

It creates a false sense of responsibility. This is about raising awareness in particular. I am very, very aware of the shortage of water in the world. Does that mean I do anything about it? Not really. I still have three toilets in my house and an enormous hot water heater. I still have a dishwasher and washer/dryer. I’m aware of the landfill problem, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done anything to reduce the amount of packing material I throw away. Since I don’t manufacture anything, I feel like I’m absolved from being responsible for this crime against ecology, and yet I know that if I voted with my dollars and participated in a letter-writing campaign to reduce packing materials, I would actually be taking steps to change the world and deal with this Serious Issue. Why don’t I? Who has time? Put it on the to-do list, right next to “cure breast cancer.”

It reduces awareness of other Serious Issues. I have to put this one in here in honor of my best friend’s mother. A few years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer, which spread throughout her body, until she eventually passed away. I’m sure that, as a responsible adult woman, she had done regular breast self-exams, but never caught the early stages of the disease. Why? Because it wasn’t in her breast. In fact, it was in a part of her body so obscure, there were only a dozen cases of cancer there. Not only was there no money being spent to research this cancer, but even if there were money for it, there wouldn’t have been researchers willing to spend their careers on a disease that affects such a small portion of the world. Now, on the one hand, I can sort of understand that. On the other hand, my best friend lost her mother, and the world lost a very caring and creative person. Doesn’t that suck.

While we’ve all been raising awareness for breast cancer research, we tend to ignore the hundreds of other cancers that our bodies can manufacture for us, including ones that are so rare that research towards breast cancer cures won’t help them.

My agent’s son has neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer that is very aggressive and, frankly, the outlook is Not Good. Although there are several organizations and individuals devoted to fighting this cancer, there isn’t a big overarching organization trying to stamp out neuroblastoma forever (there is one, however, trying to help patients and their families, and yes, they would like to Raise Awareness, too). Leukemia research seems to be related, but there are enough differences in the types of cancers that some drugs work for one type, and not for another. This disease mostly hits children, and once it comes back, there’s very little survivability. So, put in perspective– it’s a cancer that kills little kids, and hardly anybody is talking about it. Doesn’t that suck? I’ll bet it hits real Awareness when some famous actor’s kid gets it.

Here is my holiday wish, then. Instead of raising awareness and buying cheap plastic bracelets, go out and do something active to solve a problem in your world. And the correllary to that: Change the world for the better. Any way you can.

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