08/02/2016 04:02 EDT | Updated 08/02/2016 04:59 EDT

Bring Back Our Conscience

Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters
Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaigners look on during a protest procession marking the 500th day since the abduction of girls in Chibok, along a road in Abuja August 27, 2015. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram kidnapped some 270 girls and women from a school in Chibok a year ago. More than 50 eventually escaped, but at least 200 remain in captivity, along with scores of other girls kidnapped before the Chibok girls. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

In a world continually flirting with chaos, challenges emerge that could provide the average citizen with a sense of involvement to at least make their own mark on a troubled age. Causes exist everywhere that call us to action, prompt us to give, force us to consider our own responsibility to the larger world.

The problem we face with these kinds of responses isn't awareness -- we get our news from everywhere these days -- but our retention. Every day, the news through all its venues reaches us with increasing calls to humanity to rise to the occasion and effect change. Our great danger is the temptation to move from one issue to another, like a stone skipping over a quiet pond, instead of sticking to our original commitments, seeing them through to the end.

Just such a cause occurred 842 days ago, when the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram captured 276 Nigerian schoolgirls, dragging them off into captivity and the kinds of horror that are too easy to imagine. The world responded in outrage. The hashtag #bringbackourgirls was used hundreds of thousands of times within the first week. Celebrities, including Michelle Obama, were pictured holding up posters that simply said: "Bring Back Our Girls." It was a powerful movement of humanity that leaped across borders, religions, ideologies, and numerous distractions.

Increasingly, our collective conscience seems ever expanding but only skin deep.

But that was 842 days ago -- well over two years -- and despite some of the girls escaping, nothing of the present whereabouts of the remainder has emerged. The outrage that is Boko Haram is far greater than what happened to these schoolgirls. Altogether, the terrorist group has kidnapped 2,000 girls overall and have been responsible for the dislocation of 800,000 children, according to UNICEF.

Zoom out and we discover that the ripple effect of Boko Haram is even more tragic. NBC News, as reported in the Atlantic, cited a UNESCO study that concluded 10.5 million children in Nigeria have been denied access to education through the disruption of the terrorist vigilantes -- the highest in the world.

All this tragedy and ongoing misery, but two years later "bringbackourgirls" is all too rarely seen in social media -- millions of concerned citizens have moved on to other pressing matters. It's not the complexity of the problem that is the real issue here, but the tenacity of citizens once energized to press for action and collaboration. Increasingly, our collective conscience seems ever expanding but only skin deep. Or as Mark Twain put it: "A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory." Alas, have we forgotten the Nigerian girls so quickly?

And now we discover that all of Nigeria is either in massive insecurity or in starvation. UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and numerous other non-governmental organizations are calling on the world to send aid to hundreds of thousands of people dying for lack of access to food. A great human tragedy is unfolding in Nigeria and the chances of the kidnapped girls will recede even further into the shadows.

In a world that seems ever more unpredictable, citizens everywhere are demanding to become an increasing part of the solutions of the future. But what if they are becoming more sensationalized than serious? It's an important question to consider and one Susan Sontag speaks up about in her book On Photography:

"To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more -- and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize."

The problem for the modern citizen isn't that she doesn't care, or that he isn't generous, it's the temptation of always moving on instead of remaining in those places of humanity's pain until a resolution is achieved. We must be careful against the danger of, "Mistaking dramatics for a conscience," as author Louise Penny put it.

The real strength of modern citizenship will never be achieved unless we discover the collective capacity to be tenacious together. Over two years ago we made a commitment to some Nigerian girls experiencing a living hell. We will only discover hope when we go back and build on our collective promise to recover them.

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Nigeria Unrest - Boko Haram Kidnap