"Isn't it terrible what's going on in Syria?" Until yesterday, my answer to that inevitable question was simply to nod, and summon a facial expression that hopefully communicated concern and an awareness of how terrible "the situation" was.
I'd say: "I know, but what can you do?"
Of course, in reality I didn't know. And because of my lack of knowledge, I could feel quite justified in doing nothing. Over the last year I'd been aware that there were 'bad things' going on, as I would see the words "Syria", "refugees" and "civil war" in headlines around the news sites I trawl through daily.
But I had no real understanding of the causes of the conflict, what the different factions stood for, or how it was likely to work out. Fortunately, this week I found an article by The Washington Post's foreign affairs
blogger Max Fisher: "9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask."
Showing up my - yes, embarrassing - lack of knowledge about the deeper issues behind the civil war, it also laid bare my assumptions about what the possible solutions are given the situation.
On first thought it seemed natural that I would want to support the Syrian rebel forces fighting against a totalitarian dictator who was killing hordes of civilians. But as I read on, I found that I couldn't totally agree with what the rebels were doing either, given that the 'rebel forces' aren't even one defined group with any unified purpose.
I had also figured that it would be easy to support international military action to stop the dictator, Assad, from carrying out further chemical weapon attacks on his people. On closer inspection however, the outcomes of such action are almost completely unknown, and in many ways chilling to consider.
It's easy to think of our world in binary terms. Good or bad. Up or down. Black or white. If we don't take time to investigate an issue, a story or a political candidate, it's tempting to follow these lines-to rely on a headline, a funny video or a scandalous soundbite for what we think, and how we should act.
But we live in a grey world; multifaceted and messy. It's therefore important to keep informed on current events, so we have a broader foundation of understanding to work from when it comes time to support an MP, choose to sign a petition, give to a particular charity, or vote in our local body elections.
For my part, reading about the complexity of the situation in Syria made me realise how long this war is likely to go on for, and think about those "refugees" I had previously skimmed over in the news headlines. Over two million daughters, sons, mothers and fathers, all living without homes for the foreseeable future.
It became clear to me that supporting them is one thing that I can do in this situation with real clarity of conscience.
- (Live Matches)