I had a completely different post planned for today. One about the potential subjectivity of facts. That's not the post I’ve written.
Instead, one night last week, I was curled up on my couch after dinner, enjoying the soft warmth of the velvety cushions, savoring a spoonful of my favorite chocolate peanut butter gelato. I had half an eye on the evening news when the anchor introduced a story that actually sounded newsworthy. Reports of deliberate starvation had made their way out of Madaya, in Syria.
There are moments when the ennui of daily life gives way to flashes of crystalline clarity. That was one of them. I felt guilty for eating ice cream while, far away, people were making meals of paper and air. What had been a delicious treat suddenly required tremendous effort to choke down.
I am part of the Live Aid generation. When I was a child, I watched the news coverage of the unremitting famine in Africa. This was not that. Not a matter of being unable to grow or import enough food to feed a desperate population. Instead, this was food held up in convoys and prevented from reaching the town. It’s the modern day application of techniques that played a starring role in castle sieges in days of old.
The key word there is old. As human beings, we have to get over this idea that contention is the only way to overcome differences. I would venture to say that contention here covers both physical and verbal behaviors, on a battlefield, in the halls of nations, in boardrooms, on street corners, and from behind the safety of screens.
Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel said:
"When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.
As beautiful and inspiring as that is, it’s also reactionary, especially now. What were clear areas of tension just 30 years ago have splintered into countless ruptures of discord that have triggered waves crashing into one another around the globe. Technology gives us all a front-row, real-time view while at the same time, providing a sterile sense of distance from which to armchair quarterback the events. The whole world is the center of the universe that Wiesel so wisely called us to recognize.
Trying to put out each fire individually is a futile game of global whack-a-mole—assuming that the moles are identifiable and the whacking strategy can be agreed upon by all involved. Trying to relieve the suffering after it’s happening is laudable, but doesn’t do anything to stop the cycle of human beings inflicting pain on one another.
As unfamiliar and unpopular as the idea may be, perhaps we need to take a hard look at ourselves and consider that all of the hatred and contention—among our countrymen and between nations and factions—might be symptoms of a spiritual sickness as much as a material one. Perhaps borders are already irrelevant, and there is no us and them, anywhere. And perhaps the solution is a spiritual one, too. I don’t mean what some might call a miracle, and I don’t mean that a particular expression of spirituality “wins.” Instead, I'm talking about high-mindedness, a recognition of every person’s inherent nobility from birth, and an attitude shift at a very basic, person-to-person level. Those daily actions create their own ever-growing, overlapping ripples around the world, too, in time.
`Abdu'l-Bahá described the behavior this way:
"Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men.”
Seem Utopian? Good. So there’s no harm in giving it a try, then, even if our own individual efforts all look very different. And maybe in a generation or three, starvation at one another’s hands, among other indignities and cruelties, will be an experience that people only find in history books.