Every now and then certain news makes me go silent. ‘How is that possible?’ is all I can think. Such was the case of the recent break-ins (yes plural, since it happened in two consecutive nights) at the Merritt compound of the Nicola Valley Search and Rescue. In one word: heinous. The organization, like the rest of them across B.C., is run by volunteers. An admirable group of people to say the least. You’d think even a thief (or however many) would just believe enough in bad karma and skip the ‘job’.
Initially published as column on AM News, now part of NewsKamloops.
This past week I was among the many people who got to see the photo of a little Syrian boy who washed up on the shores of Turkey as a result of the horrific crisis that has thousands of refugees flee Syria. It’s the kind of photo that shakes and rattles people’s hearts, whether they have children or not.
The crisis is not new and there are now 4 million refugees in five host countries and a total of 15 million people in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria, according to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization presently on site in the Middle East.
While most people were horrified and considered the very image a visual of our failed humanity, some opinions opened the door to controversy and criticism. Peter Bucklitsch, UKip member and parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections, said the boy was well dressed and well fed and his parents too greedy for the good life in Europe.
His tweet (deleted since) garnered supportive comments alongside highly critical ones. The ones defending the comment said there are plenty of hungry people already in the UK and other European countries lining up for food at food banks, there have been cuts that made impoverished people poorer and increased crime, and an influx of refugees would make matters worse.
Most people called him heartless and worse. Factually speaking, the comment is nothing but harsh judgment applied to people he knew nothing about and, from a compassionate point of view, there is little more one should say about a dead child other than ‘that is sad and unfortunate, unacceptable by anyone’s standards.’
Others argued that there are many children dying, not just in Syria, but in Ukraine and Africa and that a photo should not steal the front page the way this one did.
These are strange times indeed, where we can show our best or worst sides. There is no competition regarding children dying and where it happens most, and there should be no ‘us versus them’ either. A child that dies is one too many. To argue that too much attention is being given to one cases versus the others causes us all to lose track of what’s important and engage in useless rhetoric.
They do not call this situation a crisis for nothing. While political analysts are not entirely surprised to see how far it got, there are no adequate words to properly describe it either, which is why photographs are worth more than any. European governments have been accused of having supported the US war on the Middle East and North Africa for more than a decade, which lead to the displacements and desperation we see today.
It is overwhelming to say the least. More than half of the Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. In the context of the Western societies protecting their young ones, often to the point of bubble-wrapping, we have to think of what children in war-torn countries witness and go through, and what that says about our world as a whole.
There is no us and them, really. Race, colour and religion do not matter when we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis like the one taking place in Syria.
Some people wonder why anyone would opt to get themselves in shoddy boats in order to cross the Mediterranean Sea, putting themselves and their families, including children and infants, at risk of losing their lives.
Desperation is a mighty beast.
What would we all do if our country was subject to a war such as the one in Syria? How many of us would be willing to live in camps or outside of camps, never making an attempt to flee in search of a better life? How many of us would risk anything for that one chance to have it better for ourselves and our children?
I would argue that the world, troubled and exhausted as it seems, has enough resources still for all who live on it. When there is a will created by compassion in face of tragedy, there is a way to carry out good deeds.
It is easy to express judgment when removed from a situation. Trouble is, judgment stops compassion in its tracks. Whether we are talking about the missing Aboriginal women in Canada and the governmental lack of attention to it, or the human slavery that is still very much alive and an unfortunate part of the western world commercial goods market, or the humanitarian crises happening in many places around the world, allowing compassion to have a front seat reminds us of a simple truth: we are only as human as we allow ourselves to be by opening our minds and abstaining from judgment so that compassion can thrive instead.
Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday May 29, 2015.
I was driving up Columbia Street when I saw what almost resembled a crowd of journalists gathered for a press conference. Phones were all pointed towards the other side of the street. A car was burning in the parking lot and a group of firefighters were pointing a thick stream of water in an effort to extinguish it.
As I drove further, I saw a few people running down towards the site with their phones out and ready to get in on the action. Of ogling, I mean, in which case action is in fact inaction as you simply stare.
What was the motivation behind all of this hubbub? Was it the hope of their video going ‘viral’ or simply the need to take a shot of something outside of the norm? A short-lived ability to make someone go ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ over something that bears the mark of sensational? I can only assume.
I kept on driving thinking of another incident heard over the news a few days ago. A man traveling in Thailand had his phone snatched by an elephant who, in the process of owning the device for a bit, took a ‘selfie’. Yes, the photo went viral and the story too and there was even a poll on the CBC website asking people to guess about the location. Go figure.
Now it is all forgotten, just like the fire in the parking lot will be or is gone already from collective memory (despite the CFJC video that had 66k likes on Facebook), just like the many ‘top viral videos of the week’, just like the viral photo or video of tomorrow. One could say this is what’s right about all of this though.
Short-lived stuff, no matter how many ripples it creates, is just that: a one match fire that lasts only as much as the match does.
And that is what makes it frustrating, especially in today’s social and political context when there are so many matters of utmost importance citizens can and should get involved in, post and write about it, and make ripples which will only add to the impact we all need to have on issues pertaining more than a burning car in a parking lot or other jaw-dropping quick facts of today’s world.
Like the infamous bill C-51, which our senators will get to vote on in a few days. Talk about ogling, cameras and things going awry. If the bill comes to be, people like you and me will be the object of ogling and there will be nothing sensational about it, other than the bewilderment over how this state of affairs came to be.
On the other hand, and in less darker tones, the story of ogling could still take better turns. A few days ago while my family and I visited friends in Barnhartvale I saw a pink-flower bush that bore plump blossom clumps and on each clump there was a swallowtail butterfly and a couple of bumblebees.
I could get close enough to look at them and then we all stood for a while, hosts included, watching the most gracious dance of yellow and black wings over big pink blossoms. I will never forget that. And yes, I did take a few photos and as I did, I knew I will write about it at least once.
Viral or not, there was something so outstandingly beautiful about it all. The warm afternoon air pinched at times by the buzzing of bumblebees, the silent dance of the butterflies, grownups and children standing in fascination in the middle of grassy slopes nestled among treed hills… a world worth staring at, because the more we do, the more we want to keep it like that.
Hunting for the cheap sensational of today that will never be remembered tomorrow dulls our senses to the point of responding only to that, as the real world is not exciting enough to garner that kind of attention.
Like a bad drug, you could say, the need to see the dirt on the world rather than its worthwhile beauty. By that I do not mean just pretty butterflies, but all that pertains to life, raw and real and giving us the full measure of what we’re here for.
With so many people in the world and so much happening, with greed and an increased lack of social conscience at times, we cannot afford to have our attention drawn to things that do little more than elicit the said oh and ah, or a chuckle.
When we focus our attention on loftier goals, as individuals and as a society, rather than monitoring the small cheap stuff, we allow ourselves a fair chance to see the big picture which in turns allows us to do more than ogle, which is observe and act upon matters than keep the world worth looking at.