Do what you can

SPOILER ALERT: JO JO RABBIT (no plot spoilers beyond what is already revealed in the synopses, but if you’re super sensitive to these things, turn away)

Anna and I went and saw Jo Jo Rabbit over the weekend. It’s a great film about a little boy whose worldview (Nazi party fanatic; his imaginary friend is Hitler) gets challenged when he finds and befriends a Jewish girl that his mother is hiding in their house.

Without revealing more about the plot, there’s a clear theme of “do what you can.” While it’s obvious that the Holocaust was a very bad thing that we should do everything in our power to stop from ever happening again, you can empathize with the characters in the film who aren’t risking it all to stop what’s happening. Some of them, like the boy at the beginning of the film, don’t know any better. Others can’t afford to take the risks. And the film makes it clear that the risks are high.

The uncharitable way to interpret an unwillingness to “do the right thing” is to say that person was “unwilling” to take the risk. A more charitable way is to say they are “unable” to take the risk. And what the film reminds viewers to do is “what you can.” It’s okay to be unable to do some things… find your limit and do what you can.

I think about this a lot when I look at what’s happening in the world and indeed within our own borders. Camps of migrants held in poor conditions at the Mexican border, violence in Hong Kong, abhorrent prison camps in China. There are human rights violations all around us. We’re (by we I mean people of similar circumstances to me) not yet faced with whether we would take on risk of death by housing a persecuted individual, but we are faced with whether we should speak out.

It reminds me of this piece from Tyler Cowen on the NBA x Hong Kong thing. In it, he asks why zero NBA players (at the time of writing) have spoken out in support of Hong Kong:

One hypothesis is that all three hundred of these individuals are craven cowards, worthy of our scorn.  Maybe.

Another hypothesis, closer to my view, is that it has turned out sports leagues (and players) are neither the most efficient nor the most just way to combat social and political problems related to China.

It’s probably true that a sports league isn’t the most efficient way to combat social and political problems related to China, but it’s hard not to view their decision here as a risk/ reward one. They’ve decided that they cannot risk their livelihoods to do what many of them probably think is the right thing.

Shaq, on the other hand, was able to speak out. But he’s well established and on a relative basis probably takes on less risk than the average NBA player in doing so.

Curious how you readers think about “doing what you can.” I’m not sure where that is for me yet, but I do know I’m probably not there yet.