I have just read a photo journal of a retired Israeli physician working in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank. (Photo Journal ). The idea of this, seeing it in pictures and reading a little about what this person is contributing to a alleviate human suffering moved me to tears. It wasn’t the cliché of enemies extending care to each other, or the selflessness of this individual nor indeed his upholding of the professional oath that moved me. What moved me was the realization that within every one of us there exists an stream of humanity that flows into the collective conscience. I concede that in many people it may as well be dry, but there is always a trickle however tiny of the stuff that makes us care for some other living creature – that makes us sensitive to the pain of others (perhaps not all others, but certainly some other than ourselves). This was a realisation of something fundamental yet forgotten.
In the midst of the struggle against the ills of the world – disease, poverty, conflict, injustice, natural disasters and environment destruction (its a daunting list!), one forgets the people who make little dents in this seemingly insurmountable task. It is the very stream of humanity that is alive and free flowing within them that enables them to face the pain and suffering of others every day.
Teachers, nurses and others who sacrifice personal material gain for the good of others do so out of humanity – they make no fanfare of this, nor do they seek riches. It is seldom financially rewarding work, but the rewards of humanity are the smiles and thanks of those who’s lives are touched , enhanced, saved and the knowledge of making a difference.
Activists, conscientious objectors, prisoners of conscience, peace observers and others who face persecution and peril to ensure that they bear witness (if nothing else) to inhumanity and injustice. All of these people have something many of us do not yet possess – the conviction that we can make a difference, that the humanity we feel can extend beyond the donation to charity at Christmas or the sighs and passing sentimentality of moving paid advertising for good causes.
So take a moment to question your own humanity, your ability to imagine walking in another’s shoes, to feel another’s pain. Try to see the world through the eyes of the homeless guy on the corner, the abused child, the starving and the dispossessed. Put yourself in their place rather than simply thank God for not being in their situation (which you can’t really appreciate unless you have been in their situation).
Its a frightening exercise that either hardens your conscience and further droughts the trickle of your humanity or (hopefully) dislodges the dam of indifference and apathy, opening the floodgates of your conscience and care.