This is me when I read the news: Humanitarian crisis: Read fast and try to forget. News about some celebrity: Stop, read and look at pictures. If the scandal is big, I will look for a follow-up.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to write the above sentences because it is so embarrassing. Me, and aid-worker, skipping the news from Syria so I can read about George Clooney. To my defense, I have to say that I do spend some time on political analysis and editorials as well. But this is not my point.
It’s been just over a week since the terrible typhoon hit the Philippines. Already we are losing interest. Today it was Toronto’s mayor Ford that was top news on CNN. How much interest do you think we are getting constantly nagging people about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Burma? Judging from my own reaction to sadness and misery in the news, chances are very high that people get bored of us (in Partners) always talking about people starving and getting sick because they don’t have medicine. Royal babies are a lot more interesting.
Media knows what sells. And they sell. We are naive enough to fall into their traps. When we stop reading, they stop writing. It seems that now they have noticed that we can’t handle much more sorrow from the Philippines. It messes up our dinner routines. It makes us uncomfortable.
But I did notice one thing last week that made me happy. People care more than I thought. As images from broken homes and broken lives hit us in our living rooms, people all over the world spontaneously started doing things to help. Most collected money that they gave to charities they trusted. The ways they would collect the money impressed me. People’s imagination and creativity soar higher the bigger the crisis it seems.
I thought about why it is this way. Instead of asking Why don’t we care more, I asked Why would we care. Because, really, it seems like most people care about themselves first, and then about the people closest to them. Which would make the people on the Philippines, or Burma for that matter, seem very far away.
Two things stood out:
We are kinder than our reputation. Humans actually do care and want to help when they just are given a specific task and need.
We want to feel like we are doing something meaningful with our lives. And what can be more meaningful than helping people who are dying? What could be more satisfying than to know that you have made a difference in somebody’s life? I can’t think of many things. I think that humanitarian crisis bring out the best in many of us. There are of course exemptions here like everywhere. Evil rulers and pedophiles for example. But I am talking about people like you and me who are trying to live our lives here on the planet as best as we can. We spend most of our time doing stuff we don’t really know why we are doing. And then when we get an opportunity to do something that really matters and we rise and shine.
I wish we would keep it up! I wish we wouldn’t stop caring about the Philippines when media stops writing about it. I wish we would not stop caring about Burma because it rarely is in the news anymore. I wish we would have the endurance of a marathon runner. I wish we would spend our energies and resources to care for the ones who are broken. Because, the way I see it, when we do that, we don’t just mend them. We are also mended.