I know that if I look, I will see children growing up in circumstances that children should never experience. I will see parents making impossible choices that parents should never have to make. If I look, I know that I will feel. I will be heartbroken. I will be tortured by the injustices and the absurdity of cruelty. I will feel sorrow, as I stare into the incomprehensible abyss of human suffering. And if I feel, if I truly allow myself to consider, to contemplate, and understand the circumstances these people are burdened with, then I will have to respond. I know that if I look and open my heart to feel the weight of their plight, then I will have no choice but to react. I will have to learn more, find avenues to ameliorate their circumstances, and speak out. I will feel the need to respond by reaching out to others and marshaling the collective abilities of my community. I will have to do something.
So instead, I have avoided this path, I have refused to look. I have turned my gaze to happier more benign things. I shut my eyes and shut my heart. It is simple, after all, when they are so far away. It is easy to listen to petty political squabble or public discourse on social media, and throw my hands up claiming it’s just a political issue or that it is too confusing to know what to do. I must confess, this is what I have been doing. And I must confess that I am a coward. I am afraid of the pain opening my eyes and heart will cause. Afraid of how inconvenient it would be. Surely, it will mean time. It will mean money. I am afraid of opening the door because doing so will break my heart. I am afraid of facing the reality of suffering that this crisis presents and afraid of seeing yet another image of starving children or fathers reduced to sobbing. I am a father, after all, and I have children. Ultimately, this will mean coming to grips with the underlying commonality of the situation–humanity. They are all sons and daughters, they all have people who have nurtured and loved them. They are all people who have known great hopes and dreams who now live in a gray world with little hope or kindness, dreams of a bright future replaced with soul sickening sorrow.
We are all sons and daughters. They, us, it doesn’t matter. Humanity’s darkest times come about when people refuse to act, when our own self concern and surety lull us into stagnation and we slumber through opportunity to make a difference. At heart, I believe everyone has the desire to make this world a better place. Here is an opportunity to be an agent of change and make a difference. I will not let my cowardice prevent future action anymore. I will engage. I will look. I will respond.
What if we all started to pay attention to the suffering of this world? What if we looked at the pictures and paused for a moment to reflect and to feel? Take a look back at the previous article on this site, “An Oppressive Cold.” It is filled with links to images of real people and real suffering. They have names. They have stories. The stories, though harrowing and unbelievable, are not fiction. They require compassion.
My goal is not to depress and guilt people into action, but to continue to shine a light on something I have long ignored. Time produces habituation. What once caused shock, outrage, and brokenheartedness has now faded into the background noise of yet another tragedy far far away. In the end, we are lucky and fortunate enough to have a choice. We can look or we can let this opportunity pass us by. I am reminded of the words of William Wilberforce, who railed against another great human injustice that was marked by much indifference to the suffering of others:
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
For me I will look, I will feel, I will respond.