by Alexander Bossakov
Over the past week, there has been a scarcity of opportunities to free my mind from the current administration’s actions and statements on immigration. Ceaseless news reports and public statements persistently highlighted the gravity of the situation, yet it took way too long – more than 2,000 children – for the zero tolerance policy to be amended to halt child and family separation. It would be underwhelming at this point to say that this is an issue that belongs on the moral plateau, rather than the political one. The pragmatics behind the rule of law arguments propagated by those who unconditionally support the administration’s actions should raise alarm bells in a civil society that purports to look back at history and throw around “never again” castigations.
Working at an organization that engages in humanitarian work does not inevitably face me with human problems and moral qualms. Even though humans are at the receiving end of the work that I do, there is little mention and thought of that reality. Most days, we engage in questions of bureaucratic practicalities, quantitative and qualitative analysis, report writing, and the like. Reflecting on what position I occupy every day in the office – not professionally, but internally, personally – becomes a necessity for me, if I want to continue being intentional about my values. In order to avoid growing numb and reduce tasks to mere administrative routine – which is not at all an impossibility – I want and need to remind myself that the work that I do – the proposals I edit, the expert databases I analyze, the presentations I prepare – will ultimately, indirectly, potentially impact the lives of those fleeing or stuck in conflict, of the vulnerable, of the unwanted, of the subhuman.
Ultimately, indirectly, potentially. Arguably, this kind of lack of certainty and the inability to see the relationship between work and impact is present in every sector. When dealing with such human issues, however, I struggle with the presence of any trace of numbness to the humanity that is so defining of the work. As I work on tasks related to the RRI, I find myself thinking too little about those individuals whose lives we aim to improve by working on the index. They should be at the center of the work that I do, and that is especially so considering what I have advocated for in the past, having worked on The Refugee Show and Tell Project. And yet, I find myself more than I’d like to thinking analytics, presentation, data, methodology, with no perception of humanity on any horizon.
What I am touching on can easily be laughed off as a messy bundle of naive and unworkable suggestions. It is not possible to humanize every single step of the process and one cannot possibly be completely in touch with the ultimate product of one’s work. When developing an analytical framework for a refugee response measurement tool, surely one cannot possibly mentally retain images of refugee families in movement at all times. Might be true, but I cannot advocate for such abstraction. Being intentional and forceful about reminding oneself and those around oneself about the human factor, the human cost, the human impact of one’s work should be a given. Avoiding that responsibility removes the human recipients from those procedures that are purportedly developed for them – a saying that has become trite in the humanitarian sector. So trite, that it can easily be dismissed as another unworkable, progress-hindering suggestion.
Many will insist that emotion should not occupy any position of relevance in intellectual or technical processes. One of the main objections to the gun violence movement is that it feeds off emotion and not pragmatic legislative considerations. Most astonishingly, that same argument is being made in the ever-so-pertinent debates on the current administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and the procedures of child separation it entails.
Bureaucracy should not entail the abstraction of humanity. Bureaucracy is about rational procedure, but rationality does not exclude humanity. Emotion does not contradict rational intellect. From the extreme to the mundane, I’d like to be an advocate for the omnipresence of humanity. For those with good intentions, like humanitarian organizations such as DARA, it would be at the very least irresponsible to reduce my work on a refugee response monitoring tool to desk administrative procedure. For those with ill intentions, action and thought that abstracts humanity as a way of approach, it would be at the very least dangerous.