When I saw this quote, the following story immediately came to mind. On March 10, 1748, John Newton, a 22-year-old English seaman who had worked in the slave trade, was traveling home on a merchant ship after a series of misadventures, including being captured and enslaved in Sierra Leone. On that day, a violent storm struck just off the coast of Donegal, Ireland. Rocks ripped a hole in the side of the ship, and it seemed unlikely that the vessel would make it safely to shore. Newton prayed and committed to devote his life to Christianity if the ship was spared. At that moment—the story goes—the ship’s cargo shifted, covering the hole and allowing the ship to limp to port.
Newton kept his promise, eventually becoming an Anglican priest. Most famous perhaps for composing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” the former slave trader dedicated himself to ending the slave trade. In 1787, he joined efforts with others to found the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Their members included Olaudah Equiano, a former slave whose storytelling abilities and autobiography made the horrors of slavery real. Josiah Wedgwood, an industrialist, created a logo for the campaign that inspired empathy and connected with the horrifying inhumanity of slavery. The emblem pictured an enslaved man on his knees, in chains, encircled by the words “Am I not a man and a brother?” It appeared on snuffboxes, cufflinks, and jewelry throughout Europe. Newton himself wrote a pamphlet titled Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, which detailed conditions on slave ships, and which he sent to every member of parliament.
Together they created what is often regarded as the world’s first infographic: a cutaway map of the Brookes slave ship, showing how slaves were stacked and chained. They posted these images in taverns and pubs throughout Europe. (See image below.)
As part of their campaign, they launched a boycott of sugar, a product purchased mostly by women, who made most decisions about the foods and products their families consumed. The campaign reduced the demand for sugar by 30 percent, showing that the tie between economic dependence on slave labor and products in demand across Europe could be severed.
Their work eventually succeeded. In 1807, Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which banned British ships from engaging in the slave trade. Their efforts are widely regarded as one of the first social justice campaigns. What these men accomplished contains the hallmarks of any effective campaign and conveys lessons we can apply today.
So what does make people care?
The questions which come to mind: Why should I care about you? Why should I care about your problems, your challenges, whether or not your day is going well, your child is sick, or your job is stressful? I don’t even know you and may never even meet you. Why do you, a stranger, matter to someone who will never know your name?
In simple words: Because it’s the right thing to do.
Each of us expresses this care in different ways, some in anger, some in tears, some in debates and discussions. But the way I love best is by actions. Deeds not words, Facta non Verba (my school motto!), walking the talk. There are soooo many needs and there are many ways to show you care. There are children going hungry all around the world. There are seniors unable to pay their bills. There are animals being abused, retired military men and women left alone after their service to the country, people in every neighborhood struggling with mental illness, drug abuse, and worse.
We need each other. We have to come together, to give of ourselves and to offer an outstretched hand. It isn’t easy work and sometimes we can get overwhelmed by all the need. But, in those moments, maybe we can retreat for a day or so and nurse ourselves a bit until we feel strong enough, and then get back out there.
Why should I care about you? Because we’re all in this together.
A year back, on 6th May 2021, as I was recovering from covid, I had decided to get back to writing and sharing with the world a little of what goes on in my head every day. Today I complete a year of sharing an article a day (sometimes even 2 articles a day!). The journey hasn’t been easy, but I absolutely loved putting this all together and more importantly for the lovely feedback I kept getting right through the year!
I shall still keep writing, not as frequently as I have been doing, but yes, will keep it going for sure! 🙂