If you turn your ear and eyes to media today it will be difficult to miss that this is the one year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. I still find the images painful to watch and the ensuing devastation in the lives of people feels like a weight even though I am thousands of miles away.
I’m now 100 pages into Tony Blair’s biography, “A Journey, My Political Life.” In his chapter, The Apprentice Leader” he reflects on the impact Steven Spielberg had on him through the movie Schindler’s List. He writes,
“There was a scene in it I kept coming back to. The commandant, played by Ralph Fiennes, is in his bedroom arguing and she is mocking him, just like any girlfriend might do. While in the bathroom, he spies an inmate of the camp. He take up his rifle and shoots him. They carry on their argument. It’s her I think of. She didn’t shoot anyone; she was a bystander.
Except she wasn’t. There were no bystanders in that situation. You participate, like it or not. You take sides by inaction as much as by action. Why were the Nazis able to do these things? Because of people like him? No because of people like her.
She was in the next room. She was proximate. The responsibility seems therefore more proximate too. But what of the situations we know about, but we are not proximate to? What of the murder distant from us the injustice we cannot see, the pain we cannot witness but from which we nonetheless know is out there? We know what is happening, proximate or not. In that case, we are not bystanders either. If we know and we fail to act, we are responsible.
A few months later, Rwanda erupted in genocide. We knew. We failed to act. We were responsible.
Not very practical, is it, as a reaction? The trouble is its’ how I fell. Whether such reactions are wise in someone charged with a leading a country is another matter.” A Journey, p. 63.
Fortunate for many people around the world, the global connections media and the internet have created for us make us proximate. Unfortunate for us, I believe, is that we are being conditioned to violence, awfulness, tragedy in a way that makes us inactive though proximate. Unfortunate is to retreat to self-righteousness as a form of reason for non-action. Compassion for others moves us to participate in both relief and development. What we do with others more proximate than us, i.e. in this instance with Haitians on the ground in Haiti is I believe an essential though difficult process. Leaders whose hearts are moved will do it.
Looking to take share in the responsibility of “proximate” try these organizations out: