Of Goliaths and Genocide

One of the more cringeworthy episodes of “The Office” takes place at business school, where Regional Manager Michael Scott presents the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company to the class.  After mansplaining basic business and economics using candy bars, Michael is hit with pointed questions about the future success of Dunder Mifflin in a competitive marketplace.  His bravado shrinking, he goes on the defensive, offering platitudes instead of strategy: “David will always beat Goliath.” One student is unconvinced. “There are five Goliaths…Staples…OfficeMax…” he begins before Michael sharply cuts him off.  “You know what else is facing five Goliaths?  America. Al-Qaeda, global warming, sex predators… mercury poisoning.  So, do we just give up?”

It’s textbook Michael Scott – managing only four “Goliaths” while missing the point of the exercise entirely. I don’t remember if I laughed or cringed – it’s possible I’ve done both on occasion, considering I’ve seen that episode multiple times.  Reflecting years later, though, I’m neither amused nor horrified by Michael’s misguided monologue.  I’m intrigued.

The writers probably wanted to highlight Michael’s narcissism and poor critical thinking, but his off-the-cuff “Goliaths” speak to something I’ve been struggling with lately.  Michael’s characterization of our country’s greatest threats might be off – but by whose standards? America is facing far more than five Goliaths, as is our immediate environment and the global environment, and to try and prioritize or rank presents a real challenge. It’s almost economic in nature; we have limited emotional capital to tackle unlimited problems.  How do we ensure our lives yield the best return when balancing the global Goliaths with our personal needs? If we want to impact the world, if we want to summon our inner David to dismantle these global Goliaths, where do we invest that capital?

A threat that only recently drew my attention is that of the mistreatment of Uyghurs in China. If you haven’t looked into this devastating story, you should. Investigative journalism, notably by the BBC, has revealed atrocious human rights abuses committed against innocent Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.  Reports and testimony conclude that Uyghurs suffer forced sterilizations, abortions, rape, child separation, and culture-stripping, all in the name of assimilation to Han Chinese culture. It’s difficult to fully corroborate; the authoritarian Chinese government is far from transparent, and countries with economic reliance on China are reluctant to label this genocide.

Each account of the Uyghurs broke my heart, particularly those from Uyghur women who escaped or otherwise exited the country, taking great risk to tell their traumatic stories.  Every thread of my emotion began arming itself to go to battle for these people.  This was it.  This was the Goliath of the day. I wanted to drop everything and find the heaviest stone, the strongest slingshot.  I was ready to sign petitions, to write lawmakers, to share on social media, to do whatever I needed to do help slay this beast.   

As days went on, though, my attention diverted.  A breaking news story, a random tweet, a call with relatives, and a chapter read, and suddenly this imminent Goliath had dissipated, giving way to the concerns of climate change, the sins of systemic racism. My personal agenda also interfered, as the personal Goliaths of self-care, family relationships, and friendships re-entered my view. Allocating all my emotional capital to saving the Uyghurs suddenly had high opportunity costs and better alternatives. What about our problems at home?  Should I not tackle my community before shifting to global efforts? How strongly should I emphasize my own well-being and my relationships?  My vision of prioritizing the giants was as erratic and noncommittal as Michael Scott’s. As Goliaths multiplied on the horizon, I stood idly, unmotivated, with a handful of empty slingshots.  How are we to ever make progress?

It seems there’s no ideal point on the sliding scale of emotional currency.  Every investment will come with opportunity cost. I’m craving a playbook for managing my emotions, maintaining relationships, and winning a victory for humanity. I want the proverbial supply-demand curve that shows how to optimize the economics of emotion. How do we ensure a swift ending to the Uyghur genocide in China, while also demanding that nobody in our communities go hungry?  How do we also maintain emphasis on the threats of climate change, to leave a better future for the next generation, and systemic racism, to better understand the horrors of America’s past? And how do we alleviate the burden of emotional resources, so it doesn’t fracture our relationships, friendships, family bonds, and personal wellbeing? Emotional capital is limited; Goliaths are limitless. And it’s frustrating as hell.

When writing, I always try and reach some sort of conclusion, recommendations on observations on complex issues.  But I’ve found this overly difficult.  Prioritizing Goliaths and building arsenals of slingshots and stones offers no easy solution.  I think back to a frazzled Michael Scott, though, more for what he asked at the end his Goliath monologue. “Do we just give up?”

This much we know: we cannot give up.  And as much as the threat of ever-present Goliaths looms large, there are many people and organizations armed and up to the task.  Perhaps we can draw on the symbolic Davids for inspiration. I’m moved by people, both in my life and in the public eye, who spend emotional currency wisely and for the greater good.  I think of politicians, athletes and public figures who use their platforms to speak out on behalf of issues they feel passionate about. I think also of community leaders who, despite a smaller platform, tackle problems in the community with ferocity.  Undoubtedly, even these icons struggle with the management of emotional capital, juggling Goliaths publicly and privately.

Even if we lack answers to this question, I hope to start a dialogue.  Whether it’s genocide or climate change, or even an issue as local as homelessness, these giants don’t leave without a fight, and even if defeated, more will emerge to fill those voids. We’ll never exist in a world without Goliaths, but I’m hoping for a unified front in attacking them, where the communal shared vision – even the erratic Michael Scott – manages what’s most important and build the best battle strategy. I’m looking for balanced emotional economics, such that we balance personal upkeep with our ability to identify and bring change with the highest return on investment – whether genocide, inequality, or local politics.  I want to prove the impulsive Michael Scott right about one thing, whether in Dunder Mifflin terms or global terms: “David will always beat Goliath.”

9 thoughts on “Of Goliaths and Genocide

  1. Don’t give up. Recognize that one person cannot do everything and that there are many other Davids out there as well. Millions, in fact. Each person must set priorities, based on what is local, or what issues he understand best, or is most motivated by, or on whatever basis.

    The Sunday link round-ups on my blog are a popular feature and I usually include one or two links on the Uyghur genocide or other aspects of the threat posed by fascist China. It is not a big contribution on the global scale, but it gets the issue into the attention of some number of people. During the pandemic I’ve donated money to the Oregon Food bank, to help people locally who were economically hardest hit. During the fires here last year I donated to the Red Cross fund for local victims. Alone, what I gave might not help much, but in combination with many others, it did.

    And always remember that those closest to us come before neighbors or strangers, because it’s there that our contribution is truly unique. When my mother was still alive and dependent on my help, I put her needs before all others, because there was no one else who cared about her as I did, nor whose attention would have meant as much to her. With your parents, your children, and other similarly close, you are the only David.

    And always remember what has been achieved in the past. Slavery in the US was defeated. The Nazis were defeated. The Soviets were defeated. The vote for women was achieved. Gay marriage was achieved. Millions of Davids beat those Goliaths by working together. Sometimes the cost was very great, but still they did it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Infidel, for your comments and clarity of thought – you’ve stated it perfectly. I also appreciate what you’ve done from a charitable standpoint while keeping loved ones as your primary focal point.
      Just realized too that I don’t follow your blog – about to change that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the many problems with the David-v-Goliath analogy is that the Biblical account, if carefully read, suggests that Goliath was visually impressive but really very vulnerable to certain types of attack. Remember that Goliath had to be, according to the KJB, lead to the battle and had serious weaknesses. The implication was he was lumbering and almost blind. The inside message being that large problems may be easier to defeat than immediately apparent. The message being that Goliath was largely defeated by a willingness to face off against him while the sling and stone were secondary.

    OTOH global warming is not going to be defeated by simple confrontation. Long-term sacrifice and concerted action are needed.

    Second, D-v-G was a one-shot deal. One confrontation. One stone. The Goliath issue settle once-and-for-all. Most of the issues we face can not be defeated in any permanent way. Racism isn’t gong away. It can be managed and minimized but as soon as you stop fighting it, possibly thinking it has been vanquished, it pops right back up.

    Keep this in mind when contemplating Chinese actions. The Uyghurs Are being suppressed vigorously and cruelly because the Chinese are well aware of how vulnerable their ostensibly united country is to ethnic conflict. Huge amounts of money and effort are being expended to maintain the cobbled together melange of cultures, ehnicities, and religions we are told to accept as a single national entity known as China. Anything that disrupts the suppression of these differences, a protracted war perhaps, or a plague, or economic disruption, could easily see the edifice collapse. I am not suggesting that China is a pushover. I am saying that China, like Goliath, is not everything their propagandists claim.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand that the common perception around David and Goliath is flawed. And you’re certainly right that these issues require long-term solutions, if solutions are even feasible. I chose the David and Goliath allegory in part because of the generally accepted interpretation – especially as it reflects some comical dialogue on The Office. Part of what I’m trying to say here is that, short of even devoting time to working at tackling these issues, it’s difficult to determine where to invest emotionally when it comes to dividing time mentally. All your points are well taken, though.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I can remember when the Soviet state seemed like an invulnerable colossus. No matter how many flaws and weaknesses were documented, it seemed unimaginable that it could ever simply fall. Until, suddenly, it did, and then in hindsight we could see that it had been inevitable.

      The Chinese regime, like most totalitarian regimes, is hard but brittle — that which cannot bend eventually breaks. It will not stand forever.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I appreciate how your position is not one of blind optimism, but of practical encouragement. It’s helped me think through some of these perceived Goliaths and, admittedly, to do some research on the Soviet decline to better understand.
        Side note – thanks for the share! I appreciate it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “We’ll never exist in a world without Goliaths…”

    Raz, this is so true. Also, to agree with your statement above, it is indeed very difficult. It seems there are so many issues going on that it has become hard to focus on one giant. The best we can do is take down one giant at a time – Whether that be in our own community, personal lives, or internationally. Thank you so much for writing about the horrible treatment of Uyghur people in China. Keep doing the best you can. Your work to spread awareness is appreciated as well as your writing. Blessings to you!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Devonte! Your support means a lot and I always appreciate your comments. The encouragement – especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed in a sense – proves very helpful. Be well my friend.


      Liked by 1 person

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