I am a humane educator, someone who teaches about the cruelties, destruction, and injustices we perpetrate on other humans, animals, and the environment and who helps people cultivate compassion and integrity and become solutionaries able and motivated to build humane, healthy, and just societal systems. It is in this capacity – rather than as an expert in geopolitics or Russian-Ukrainian history, which I am not – that I write about how each of us can be a force for good in the face of the invasion of Ukraine.
What’s unfolding in Ukraine is horrifying on so many fronts, and it’s worth enumerating a few:
- An unprovoked invasion directed by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is not only causing death and destruction to Ukrainian citizens but also to conscripted Russian soldiers, many of whom seem to have thought they were being sent to Ukraine for military exercises rather than to kill their neighbors.
- More than 1 million refugees have already fled Ukraine, creating a humanitarian crisis.
- Racism is showing up at the borders, as some Ukrainian border personnel prevent Black Africans working in Ukraine from leaving the country, and according to some accounts, abusing them as well.
- An economic fiasco not only for Ukrainians but also for Russian citizens is unfolding with economic impacts that will likely reach across the globe.
- As always in war, environmental destruction and animal suffering are occurring on an enormous scale that will largely go unnoted, eclipsed by the human suffering that draws our attention.
I fervently believe that humane education is the ultimate solution to virtually all societal problems, but I know that education isn’t going to get Putin to withdraw from Ukraine. So while we mustn’t take our eyes off the prize of preparing a generation of solutionaries who are able to build systems and solve conflicts peacefully, wisely, and humanely, this post is about what each of us ordinary citizens of the world can do right now to be a positive force for good.
1. Be a humanitarian. While solutionary thinking and action is the essential long-term work to transform systems, now is the time to embrace your humanitarianism. Find ways not just to express your opinions, but also to give. Here are some organizations you may wish to support. I have found them the same way you would, by doing an Internet search on legitimate, trustworthy charities working to help Ukraine. If none appeal, find others that meet your standards by doing some research: The Ukrainian Red Cross, Nova Ukraine, Voices of Children, Doctors Without Borders, The Kyiv Independent, Helping Animals in Ukraine
2. Avoid “What About-ism.” It’s true that there are other atrocities and aggressions that have been happening for years which aren’t getting news coverage. It’s important to work to end atrocities wherever they occur. But if you find yourself expressing variations on “What about x, y, or z?” on social media and in conversation, ask yourself if your comments are actually helpful right now. Is venting your “what aboutism” by focusing on comparisons with other aggressors who haven’t garnered worldwide attention, or by reminding people of the atrocities your own government has perpetrated, achieving the goal of diminishing suffering and harm and helping those in need?
3. Pay attention to the good. There is far more good on display right now than evil. There is an extraordinary outpouring of support for Ukraine from all corners of the world with money, people, and supplies pouring in to help. So many Ukrainians are demonstrating not only courage but also mercy when they capture Russian soldiers. Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky – a Jew and the grandson of the surviving brother of four killed in the Holocaust – is showing the world what heroic leadership looks like. Brave Russian citizens are risking arrest to protest Putin’s invasion of their neighboring country. Governments are risking economic hardship for their own citizens with sanctions that are meant to compel Putin to retreat. Corporations are divesting from Russia even though they will lose money. Hackers are infiltrating Russian media, banks, and the government to undermine Putin and empower Russian citizens. It is true that you will find racist Ukrainians, self-interested politicians, governments threading a seemingly too-careful needle to avoid provocations they fear could backfire on them, and corporations that are acting performatively or not at all. But before you indulge your cynicism or look for what is wrong, notice all that is right. It is on full display. Putin is waging a 20th-century invasion in 2022, which means the world can see and hear what’s happening in real-time because everyone with a cell phone and Twitter account is a potential correspondent. Watch and share the good that you find.
I do not pretend that these three, relatively simple actions will lead to Putin’s retreat or Ukraine’s military victory over its vastly larger aggressor, but it may help. Cultivating, spreading, and fomenting goodness leads to all sorts of positive outcomes including:
- Deepening collaboration and allyship and diminishing polarization
- Supporting greater courage, generosity, and integrity
- Reducing despair and growing evidence-based hope that sparks others to do good as well
If each of us does these three things, collectively we will be contributing in ways that can become far-reaching. At the same time we’ll be protecting our own psyches from the overwhelming despair we might feel if we took no action at all.