Sunday, August 26, 2007

Perspective: Debunking Myths About the Third World

"I have shown that Sweden's top students know statistically less [about the developing world] than chimpanzees.

The problem is not ignorance, but preconceived ideas.

The world is still us and them. Us is the Western World. Them is the Third World."

--Hans Rosling in his presentation, "Debunking Third World Myths"

Even before we are born and certainly from the moment of birth onwards, each of us is charged with forming our understanding of the world and how it works.

Much of this understanding comes from our culture.

By definition culture is "a set of learned beliefs, values, understandings, and behaviors; the way of life shared by the members of a society."

The emphasis is on "learned"--we understand the world the way we are taught to see it.

One does not have to look back far into history in order to understand that incorrect or prejudiced or inhumane "understandings" of the world have been the foundation on which some of man's most grievous "inhumanities to man" have been built.

It is always easy to condemn the world view of another generation and the sins which resulted from it. It is harder to see the problematic beliefs and practices in your own time.

The truth is that we are blind to our own blind spots.

Therefore we must always be seeking to update and critically examine our own cultural beliefs, especially where they concern whole groups of people who are "other" than we are and from whom we may benefit in one way or another.

The following video is posted here as the first of many challenges meant to help us critically examine the foundational beliefs on which our understanding of international adoption is based.

Have some of your understandings about the third world--where many internationally adopted children currently come from--challenged by the watching the following video. As you watch it, think about several things:

1) How do our cultural understandings of the third world, whether accurate or inaccurate, play into our assumptions about international adoption?

2) How do these assumptions, right or wrong, inform and motivate our own actions and attitudes?

3) As the rest of the world's standard of living rises and its reproductive rate decreases, what will this mean for the availability of adoptable children internationally?

4) Do Third World myths allow us to more easily overlook adoption corruption and injustice by allowing us to fall back on out-moded cultural understandings that keep Third World citizens incomprehensible "others" with whom we can't identify (we psychologically push the adults in these cultures away while grabbing at the children and making them over in our own image)?

Certainly, we, like every generation must start with the culture and the understandings we receive from the previous generations, but we must go beyond those. We must test our beliefs against a changing reality. We must test our beliefs for lingering prejudice and for an inhumanity that is of benefit to us.

Hans Rosling: Debunking Third-World Myths with the Best Stats You've Ever Seen, February 2006


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