In 2013, I took a journey into Masailand, Kenya, where I camped out for about 6 weeks. I was fresh out of graduate school classes, so I carried a load of community development theory with me in my back pocket.
I was hungry to get my feet wet in development practice. At that point in my life, I had big dreams of working in the NGO world and knew I needed to have some experience *working among the poor*.
I blogged my journey, and posted my discoveries online for anyone to read. And I remember feeling so puffed up by the feedback I would get from people following along.
I honestly think my motives were good, but whoa. The narrative I was writing from Kenya then was so far from what I would consider responsible or ethical today.
Social media is developing much faster than our ethical standards for online storytelling. And in 2013 I was behind the curve.
I basically want to vomit at the thought of re-publishing what I’m about to share with you. But I’m going to share it anyway, because I hope we can learn from it together.
So, let’s play a game. I’m going to paste an excerpt from a ghastly blog I wrote about a little boy I photographed beside a mud hut in Kenya in 2013. I’ll highlight the exceptionally puke-inducing phrases, and then talk about why so much of what I wrote was not only unethical, but also a lie.
Myth #1: This little boy was completely helpless.
Myth #2: I could save this little boy if someone allowed me to.
Myth #3: Babies are only cute in Baby Gap.
Myth #4: People who really love their babies put their babies in Baby Gap.
Myth #5. Guilt is an appropriate motivator for serving the poor.
Here you have it, friends: the ugly reality of what happens when you externally process online and have to later go back and read your writing through dozens of face palms.
I don’t just share this so that we can all laugh and move on. As expats compelled by our faith, we have a great responsibility to tell stories from the field that are honest and true, but also reflect a Heavenly Father who is gathering His people in love.
If the poor are our project and not our friends, it’s going to be hard to tell an ethical story.
If victims of abuse are our ministry and not our friends, it’s going to be hard to tell an ethical story.
If our neighbors overseas are our audience and not our friends, it’s going to be hard to tell an ethical story.
We must test our hearts and test our words, doing our very best to check the motives behind our storytelling.
How do people respond after reading your donor newsletter? Your Instagram feed? Your blog posts? Are people more drawn to you and your work, or are they drawn to our God whose work is justice, compassion, and hope?
If you haven’t yet discovered www.ethicalstorytelling.com, head on over and explore the new site + give it some love.