(Missed) Opportunities

Typhoon Haiyan had just hit and I was meant to be working my way through some 14th century Italian literature but I was distracted by the seemingly importance of what was going on over there and the contrasting pointlessness of what I was doing. It was easy to slip into feeling that I was in the wrong place, questioning the worth of what I was currently doing and wanting to go over there to help.

So what started as a form of extended procrastination resulting in sending off an application to one of the charities out there that that I was familiar with. They were called All Hands and were about to launch a project to help with the disaster relief. I got an email a few weeks later and was offered a place for 3 weeks over Christmas. As you can tell by the title of this post, I had to turn it down in the end.

It's easy to fall into a trap of ranking value and importance. On one utilitarian level you can work out numbers, for example how many people you can feed with a certain amount of money and maybe you could compare this with a country in sub-Saharan Africa to a country in Central America and work out where you should go. Of course life isn't like this, circumstances are different and if you were to be judged it should be on helping people where you are and not where you're not.

Life is also a balance. You need to be able to look after yourself before you can look after others. This is not about being selfish but realising you will do more good with a sustained effort over a year rather than throwing yourself into something for a couple of months and then burning out with exhaustion. It's like the classic advice you get on a plane to put your own gas mask on before you put on your children's.

Of course, I still wish I was getting on a plane next week. I have worked once before with a disaster relief organisation, albeit a few years down the line, and it was probably the best thing I have done in my life so far. Everything that seems to bother you in the western world is no longer present and you have a 'simple' task of waking up everyday to work on projects helping people get their lives together again. 

Ultimately, I guess there are jobs I have to do in Edinburgh and they have value even if isn't as emotionally invasive as working in the Philippines would have been. People uplift education as the ideal that people should aspire to. I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to study at one of the worlds best universities yet I regularly don't appreciate this for its full worth.