Interview with Hardin Lang
Right now, the world is in crisis. It seems like every time I open the news, something else has gone wrong. At the moment, I am trying to educate myself as much as I can, be an informed citizen and be conscious of the world around me. Today, we spoke with Hardin Lang. Not only was he able to bring light to many situations that I did not have complete understanding of, but he also made me look at policy with a new perspective. Hardin Lang doesn’t want us, those in the biggest countries, to forget about the world’s most vulnerable. He says that it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. And when COVID-19 reaches Syria, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia, it will be what was seen in New York City on steroids. Simply shutting borders isn’t stopping the disease; we are at the stage where that will not stop epidemic. What is needed is a global response, the virus doesn’t know borders.
Beyond COVID-19, Hardin Lang’s life work and passion for it is unparalleled. I was struck by his ability to see the whole picture, or as he calls it, “being upstream of the problem.” There is an exhilaration that comes from fighting the problem head on, but sometimes real change must be made from the top down. And, it is not about being the savior, it is about changing the situation so that people have more choice. I hope that I can learn from his passion and mirror it in my life, seeing the bigger picture, seeing where I can truly make the most change.
On Wednesday, the 3rd day of our virtual trip, we had two interviews, one with Laura Liswood and the other with Hardin Lang. After a thought provoking interview/dialogue with Liswood, we had the interview with Lang. In that interview, we dove right into questions. Right off the bat his intellectual and thoughtful responses gave us a new perspective on issues we had heard addressed in other interviews. One point that particularly struck me was a story he told about interviewing soldiers in Guatemala who had destroyed a village filled with innocent people because their families were threatened if they did not. At the end of his story he asked the question, “What would I do if a gun was held to my head?” He made the point that we need to understand the circumstances before we cast judgement. This question reminded me of something Laura Liswood said about morality. She said, “You don’t know your morals until they’ve been tested.” You don’t know how you will react in a situation until you have really lived through that situation. I found this idea to be true. We can all say we will follow our moral compass, but when the time comes to truly test those moral ideas it takes a lot of courage to decide if they are truly worth sticking to.
Today the Junior and Senior class had the opportunity to interview Hardin Lang. He is currently the Vice President for Programs and Policy at Refugees International. He has also worked on many U.N. Peacekeeping and humanitarian field missions.
What struck me the most during our interview was the level of humility Hardin Lang had when speaking about the work he does and what it means to him to help those that need assistance. He said that often when we talk about helping countries or individuals who require it the most, there is a savior complex. Individuals and even governments feel the need to be the hero and often want everyone else to recognize their work. At one point towards the end of the interview, while talking about his work in assisting other countries, Hardin Lang said that those in similar positions to help should understand the “concept of accompaniment” when it comes to their role and responsibilities. “They should be there simply to guide and aid rather than rule and control,” he stated. Their job should be to help those who once needed assistance be able to operate without such assistance.
I very much appreciated what Hardin Lang had to say. I feel these sorts of ideas are often overlooked in the line of public and global service, but they are something we should start thinking about because this sort of perspective can help all of us.
I was left speechless at the end of our interview today with Hardin Lang, Vice President of Refugees International. He had so much worldly wisdom and knowledge to share with us that my brain could hardly keep up. I was awestruck by his years of accomplishments and experience. While answering our questions he continued to return to the idea of being humble. When talking about his role on humanitarian missions to other countries he said, “don’t see yourself as there to save other people, you’re there to accompany them.” Often, I think the United States views itself as sort of a “superhero”, swooping in to “save” the day. He said it was not our job to superimpose structure upon other countries, but it was our job to listen and assist. This struck me as important because I think we forget sometimes that we were born into a life of privilege by luck. The only difference between us and the refugees in Syria is that we happened to be born in the right place at the right time. I think this message is extremely humbling and important to remember. When we realize that all that differentiates us is nothing more than luck of the draw, perhaps we can finally get over the international barrier and create a more globally inclusive and supportive society.