Let’s try a quick exercise. Think of some unpleasant social situation going on in the world. Did you think of hunger? Poverty? War? Modern slavery? Now think about the people you were picturing involved in those situations. Was it in this country? Another country? On an entirely separate continent? What if you don’t necessarily know the name of the place you were thinking of, but instead just a standardized “type” of people in the generic photos plastered across philanthropic media?
Chances are the thought “or name” that came to mind was “the developing world”. But shouldn’t all of the world be developing? Making itself better as it goes along? Most everyone strives to make themselves a better person, we even set a specific time to set New Years’ Resolutions. For many that is to exercise, lose weight, get a better job, etc., but overall they want to keep developing themselves into what they think will make them a better person. So what would happen if those resolutions became something for a group the want to embody?
It was while reading Half the Sky that I noticed an interesting phrasing that is actually rather commonplace in everyday discussions. It was in the section about honor killings that such things commonly occurred in “the Muslim world”. While it is probably just a slip of the tongue, it got me to thinking about how bad things happen everywhere, just as how good things can happen everywhere as well. So why do we want to separate places and the people in those places by calling them “first world” and “third world”? Giving something a distancing name, does not make the problem disappear. Chances are that there are many people within those countries who are content with where they are and how their lives are going so they might not even be considering how they are “developing”. On the other side though, maybe there are some who are so worried about the problems they are facing that they don’t know where to begin their “developing”.
As far as we are aware there is only one planet – one “world”—that mankind can live on. While social situations might make the world want to split itself into what many would want to refer to as “its better half and less-better half”, there really is no way to do that without destroying humanity completely. We all live on the same world. We all eat on the same world. We all grieve on the same world. And we all smile on the same world.
Changing the way you say something might not always make you think of it differently, but for those that consider the entire world as something of their own then it makes them want to better another possession that they are responsible for. So next time you write a paper, or give a lecture, or see a commercial for someone in need, try not to think of the bad situations as being a part of “the [separated] world” and instead make it clear that you want to be a part of the entire world by saying “we need to make our world see/learn/understand…”.
Ayla Yeargain is a double Writing and English major, and a resident-scholar of the Humanities House at Drury University.