Americans are well-known for their out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. As each and every year is pockmarked with major life-changing events for millions of people around the world and even right here in our country, it seems that cataclysmic events are only important the moment they happen. Complications that may arise during the months and years after such tribulations occur apparently aren’t our problem.

Take, for instance, Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005. Though FEMA was initially slow to react when it hit, New Orleans received a lot of help from humanitarian organizations. But the tragedy slowly faded in our minds, and so it went for many of the victims of Katrina who struggled for years afterward. It was a similar situation for victims of the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. Though we came together for a few months to raise funds and send money and supplies to help rebuild their country, we, collectively, have put the Haitian tragedy behind us.
Despite our best humanitarian efforts or attempts to put others’ needs before our own, we fall short. Understanding, though not condoning, such behavior, Americans have seen better days and we all have our own personal struggles.

But the results of a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press came as a rather big surprise. Though headlines in print, online and in television media have been loaded with updates about the civil unrest in Egypt, the Pew poll of 1,385 adults revealed that, statistically speaking, 52 percent of Americans knew “little or nothing” about it. This monumental situation that will most likely have major permanent global repercussions, for some reason isn’t resonating with us. Though the uprising isn’t a natural disaster like Katrina and in Haiti, maybe it takes thousands of people to die for the majority of Americans to respond or, at the very least, talk and learn about it.

Truth be told, what is happening in Egypt is complex. While some Americans think they have experienced oppression by our government, it is nothing compared to what has been happening in Tunisia, Egypt and many of the countries in the Middle East for decades. (Please read our news story “Understanding the Egyptian uprising” on page 8.) When we have endured such oppression, we fought the powers that be with a great zealousness, from the American Revolutionary War to the civil rights movement.

The irony is, though tens of millions of Americans are dialed in to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, the Middle East uprising apparently isn’t a hot topic here, but it was because of these sites that young people in those oppressed countries were able to mobilize and orchestrate protests.

By either choosing to ignore or just refusing to talk about what is happening in the Middle East, we are doing a disservice to ourselves. For the last several years, many Americans have proclaimed their distrust and even disgust for our government, but have only small protests to show for it. The reality is, perhaps, that angst and anger over America’s current political climate isn’t as bad as some are making it out to be. Certainly, no one has expressed such frustration by setting him- or herself on fire in D.C.

In the end, even though it has been said that history is doomed to repeat itself, it has also been said that we can learn from it. If we truly want to initiate real, tangible change, rather than continuing to just gripe about our problems, then we should be fervent about learning what is happening beyond our own backyard.