Mindful Responsibility

Several years ago I saw the Oscar-nominated film “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Set during the Sierra Leone Civil War, the film tells a story of a fisherman abducted into forced labor as a digger in diamond fields which finance the warlords of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). After his village is invaded and he is enslaved, the fisherman is separated from his young son who was forced into the rebel army and brainwashed becoming a ruthless killer. The film shows many of the atrocities of that war, much of which centers around the diamond industry.

The film made me more aware and hopefully more socially responsible. While I never planned on buying a diamond, I thought that I would never look at the diamond industry the same way. It turns out we have lots of opportunities to act more responsibly in addition to deciding which diamonds we buy.

In my daily activities in Jerusalem, I have seen that peace will not come through governments, but through people. We have many, many opportunities to improve the world every day. Some of these opportunities present themselves by creating understanding, some by doing something kind for someone who is not like us, and still others by going outside of our comfort zone. We often look the other way or go on doing what we do, without taking responsibilities for our actions. However, I believe that by taking responsibility for our daily actions we can significantly improve the world.

But how can we help kids that are kidnapped in Sierra Leonne?

This year I heard a very powerful talk by Martin Rapaport, a leader in the diamond industry who has been spreading awareness and working for fair trade in the diamond industry long before the film I saw was produced. Rapaport called upon us to be even more aware, pointing out that our cellphones use coltan and other precious metals mined in Africa as do many electronic devices from computers to hearing aides. He asked “Are we responsible for this suff? What do we do about it?”

Rapaport shared videos, photos of children whose limbs were amputated, personal stories and compelling statistics. For instance, 28% of children do not live past the age of 5 in Sierra Leone (It is the highest infant mortality rate in the whole world). And yet billions of dollars of diamonds came from that country. Think about that.

Rapaport asked our audience point blank: “What would you do to keep your kid alive? What wouldn’t you do?” demonstrating that government regulations are not enforceable.

He has a convincing argument: “When people don’t have food and they have what we want, they kill each other. And that’s just a fact.”

So the largest army in the world, he points out, is the UN Peacekeepers who are failing, as are all governments, to create jobs, to guarantee human rights, and to end poverty because they, like charities, do not offer a local sustainable economic solution.

All of this leads back to my original thoughts after watching the movie. Let’s face it, what can we do? What can I do?

Rapaport urges us to be responsible for our actions. We all have good intentions, he says, but the unintended consequences of our actions are what really has an affect on the world. Every time we act or make a purchase, we are changing the world. The answer, Rapaport argues, is responsible consumerism. “Be responsible for your money!” He lauds the audience saying that if you bought a cellphone and some kid died, you killed that kid!

It’s a powerful message.

“When you buy something, you are exercising economic power. Think about the people behind the product.”

Rapaport is calling for a new standard, one which we may pay a dollar or two more, to ensure that our computer, our cellphone, our jet engine and our hearing aide is made according to the standards of fair trade.

All that sounds good to me. So now I understand that I should be more mindful and think about the people behind the products I buy.

I finished listening to Martin Rapaport even more inspired than when I saw the movie.

It is very difficult to live up to our ideals, especially when they mix our material and the spiritual worlds. We want to save money, get the most profit and do the right thing. These are worlds which only intersect within certain spheres for most of us. We would never practice discriminatory practices in the workplace. We might even make some purchasing decisions based on what is environmentally friendly. But how many of us really take responsibility for all our economic activities? How many of us even know how?

Do you know where your clothing was sewn? Have you recycled your phone or computers so there is less demand on African mines? More importantly, what can you do to create a healthier local economy at home and around the world? Do you only buy locally grown vegetables in your supermarket or better-yet at a local farm stand? Are you mindful and responsible for your purchases?

Almost half a year after I heard Martin Rapaport speak, someone from the diamond industry was sitting across from my desk. His company has a series of Web sites ranging from a retail store to sites promoting discreet investment services for high-wealth individuals and financial institutions. He was impressed with our meeting and left looking forward to receiving our proposal. I was excited to work with a company which seemed to be ready to move forward in their online marketing efforts and with their staff by whom I was very impressed.

As I discussed this project with my staff, one person said to me that she could not work on this project unless she could be assured that they did not deal with blood diamonds.

“I agree totally,” I told her and immediately sent out an email informing the company of such.

The thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

How could I have been so thoughtless?

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