Does responsibility extend beyond borders?

The Monitor hosted two journalists through the Mandela Washington Fellowship; it was a reminder of the connection the Monitor had with Nelson Mandela.

Peter Main/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Nelson Mandela (center) visits the Christian Science Center in 1990. A fellowship named for him brings African professionals to the U.S.

I wish all of you could have met Chol Duang and Zikhona Miso.

The two came to The Christian Science Monitor’s offices last month as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a six-week leadership program for African participants run by the U.S. State Department. The visit was meaningful simply for the relation that the Monitor had to Nelson Mandela, who read the Monitor while imprisoned in South Africa and visited our headquarters the year he was freed. But it was even more meaningful for the time some of us shared with Mr. Duang and Ms. Miso.

These two journalists – from South Sudan and South Africa, respectively – brought with them the best hopes of the profession. They want to make the lives of their fellow citizens better. They want to be a force for honesty and compassion and fairness that moves their countries forward. And they came here to fuel that hope.  

Today, programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship can be a touchy subject. Trends ebb and flow, but at the moment, Western nations are being much more cautious about any responsibilities to people other than their own citizens. Think Brexit and “America First.” President Donald Trump has often asserted that many countries that receive foreign aid do “nothing for us.”

To be sure, there is a robust debate to have around foreign aid. As a reporter in Afghanistan, I saw examples of Western aid workers throwing money at a problem from behind the high walls of a Kabul compound rather than doing the necessary – but more dangerous – work of engaging with communities to build real stability and safety. That inefficiency is part of the skepticism. 

But it’s equally important to meet Mr. Duang and Ms. Miso and see plainly the good that countries can do beyond their own citizens. The genius of the Western world during the past 70 years is that, at its best, it promoted values that have demonstrably helped to spread wealth, freedom, liberty, and equality across the world. That expansion has absolutely been in the West’s interests, from enlarging influence to creating new markets for products. But the work is far from done. Who will continue to expand these mutually beneficial values?

Mr. Duang and Ms. Miso, to name two.

The fellowship brings together “the best of Africa,” says Mr. Duang, a leading television news reporter. And through the program, participants are seeing the best of America in many ways – including the conviction that in helping Africa reach its potential, America is strengthening itself.

“There are so many things to take home and to apply,” Mr. Duang says.

For Ms. Miso, also a broadcast journalist, there’s no question that “the U.S. gains 10 times more than it puts in.”

“The people in this program are game changers,” she says. “The resilience and commitment is amazing.”

Supporting that commitment to expanding freedom, equality, and justice is the most important thing the West can do for the world. When done honestly, the benefits far outweigh the cost. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.