Things worth fighting for
Each and every one of us can make a difference
The well publicized event was tragic and disheartening. A young, blind, black man was drowning. In fear and desperation he cried out for help. Five teenaged boys, 14 to16, laughed and taunted the dying man. Later, they recorded the event on video which they posted online.
How can we shut our ears to the cry of the afflicted, the poor, the sick, and the disempowered? Surely there is a covenant of human sensibility. John Donne said it memorably: “No man is an island entire of itself. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never sends to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.”
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”
It is frightening that some purblind leaders of the free world are not concerned with those facing disaster and wholesale death in so many countries. It would be tragic if the unconcerned teenagers were following, whether they know it or not, the unfortunate acts and dictates of those would-be guides to our future.
It takes courage to care, to fling open our hearts and to react with sympathy or compassion or indignation or enthusiasm when it is easier — and sometimes safer — not to get involved.
There is an anonymous parable: Two men were seated in the lobby of a hotel. One was a gentleman from New York and the other an Apache Indian. The New Yorker stared at the ‘Indian’ and then could no longer restrain his curiosity. “Are you really a full blooded Indian?” he asked.
Well, no, replied the Apache thoughtfully, “I’m short one pint of blood, which I gave to save a white man’s life.” A real person is one who is short pints of blood which he gave for the well-being of others.
Whatever happened to the once widely held belief that we are all created in God’s image? This is the assertion that everyone is in some manner valuable, unique and singular. Just consider, there is no other individual on earth just like you or your spouse or your children. No one has your fingerprints or DNA. No one looks exactly like you.
And we can carry this idea one step further and suggest that the spiritual inspiration within each of us is the only real basis for brotherhood and sisterhood. Why should I love my neighbour? It may be that I dislike him intensely. Indeed, I have nothing in common with him. This may be especially true when he or she speaks a different language, practises ‘strange’ customs and habits, or is of a different colour. All of this may be true — but how can I refute the assertion that we share and partake of God’s ineradicable spirit?
We know in our bones, in the depths of our being, that we are not average. Each one of us knows that we are somehow special, somehow a solitary individual with our own sad secrets, our own bundle of hopes and dreams, our own fears and fantasies.
The American anthropologist Lorne Eiseley summed up his attitude to life with this story: “An elderly man was walking on the beach at dawn when he noticed a young person picking up starfish stranded by the retreating tide and throwing them back into the sea, one by one. He approached him and asked why he was doing this. The young man replied that the starfish would die if left exposed to the morning sun. His questioner replied, “But the beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of starfish. You can’t save them all. How can your effort make a difference?” The young man looked at the starfish and then threw it safely into the ocean. “To this one,” he said, “it makes a difference.”
Finally, we must not turn our backs or shut our ears when a fellow desperate human being seeks our physical or spiritual help. Our concern must be to convince our young people that injustice and inhumanity affects them and their lives.
They must be taught that there are things to be concerned with and to fight for; truth, goodness, freedom, justice, peace — and above all human dignity.
Rabbi Bernard Baskin is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton and an occasional contributor to these pages.