Friday, October 14, 2005

Suffering Others

We were just finishing a staff meeting.

I mentioned to our senior strategic planner

that, with winter setting in, and with the lack of food,

that hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis might die.

You can hear it in the voices of some of the leaders.

Or at least I think I can.

Given that the richest nation on the earth could not get water

to tens of thousands of hungry, thirsty hurricane victims

just a few blocks from I 10,

a super highway which traverses the breath of this nation,

We should not be surprised that one of the poorest nations,

might have difficulties getting food, water, and shelter

to a million victims of a quaking earth,

on roads that are barely fit for a mule team.

Yet today, I heard stories that one reason so many were hurt

was because of poor construction.

Even PBS jumped on the bandwagon with an interview that

accused the Pakistani government of not being prepared.

The Ambassador retorted that the very nature of an earthquake,

negates the likelyness of being ready.

He said that when you are not prepared or cannot prepare,

You, by defintion, have an emergency.

It seemed pretty logical and straightforward to me.

He then said with a very clear voice,

"We, after all, are primarily concerned with providing relief."

He said that the government response was not slow or limited,

because of a lack of will,

but because of a lack of resources.

Pakistan is a poor country.

Once again, we find the news media looking for the bad guy,

They are looking for the story, for the problem here.

They will tell us about the miraculous saving of a life after five days,

But they will not tell us about the suffering that will continue for years.

And perhaps, it is just as well.

But, my breath was taken away today by a colleague at work.

Upon hearing about the Pakastani disaster still looming,

She indicated that one reason so many people are dying

in these disasters,

is because there are so many people now.

She looked at me as if I would surely understand what she was saying.

I did not.

I was horrified.

And she didn't understand why.

She didn't understand that she was trying to marginalize this carnage.

She didn't understand that she was somehow trying

to make the deaths of these school children less important.

She didn't understand that she was playing the worst of blame games.

She didn't want to think about the hunger and the exposure

that hundreds of thousands of these mountain people are bearing tonight

in the high mountain fall temperatures.

All I could say to her was,

"Yes, I understand what you are saying,

But I don't have the slightest idea why you are saying it. "

It's as if she would reason that the suffering and loss of a mother of five

who loses her middle son,

is less of a loss than the mother of two who loses her second.

Are we to feel better about the deaths of 40,000 Pakistanis

because their buildings are not built to western earthquake standards?

Or because their government was not prepared for a disaster?

Because there are just so many people now?

This woman is not a monster.

She may even be a democrat.

Why must we marginalize suffering?

So we don't have to feel it?

So we don't have to feel guilty about it?

So we don't have to let this human tragedy get too deeply inside?

So we don't have to think about it happening to ourselves?

They must have done something wrong.

They must have sinned.

They must have ignored building codes.

They must have angered the gods.

Or otherwise,

I too could find myself without a home,

or food,

or water.

And I would die.

Everybody wants to go to heaven.
But nobody wants to die.

Joe Lewis, boxer


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Blogger Step Back said...

Always blame the victim!

If somethin BAD happened to "them" it was their fault. "They" had it coming.

It won't happen to "ME". I am free of of fault. Therefore I am immune. It won't happen to "ME". That's for sure.

(Denial is our largest evolutionary river-link flowing out from Africa.)

Good observation of human behavior !!!

5:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have always been in the blame game. Sensationalize and Blame. You hit it the nail on the head. It is a way of distancing ourselves from the suffering - our own as well as that of others.

If we look at the suffering of others for more than a minute, we will have to look at our own suffering, our own exposure, and our own fear. We will have to see just how fragile the human condition is and how self absorbed we are.

We cannot look at the sorrow of the world and have compassion because we cannot look at our own sorrow or have compassion for our selves. It seems that the work begins with ourselves - the un-armoring, as Steven Levine calls it, of our own hearts.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be in Communion with Sorrow

Most of us are not in communion with anything. We are not directly in communion with our friends, with our wives, with our children...

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Viewing 30,000 killings a year dramatically depicted on tv leads to a harding of the heart, too, and innures us to violence.
The extrapolation of the world's population (from increased food production made possible with fossil fuel,) puts more people into harm's way and the existence of tv instantly brings it all to our attention. (Excepting, of course, views of the returning dead from Iraq.)
I suppose there is a need to play the blame game to shift some of this enormous weight from our collective shoulders.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Charlie Loving said...

I believe that there are too many people living in a world that has changed so drastically since I was a child. The people have forgotten the old ways that work. They ways that their ancestors learned and used to survive in those regions. The new generations watch too much television and lust after the American life style.

Technology came and conquered. They needed high rise apartements. They needed four lane highways. The third world took to the progress. Medicine and agricuture changed and the birth rates exploded. More mouths to feed. More schools to build and more and more and more. Yet these people still cook with wood and ruin the forests. They eat anything they can. In Zaire they hunted the dik dik with AK-47s. New technology.

The kid in Katmandu needs an iPod, a Game Boy, a cell phone, cable television and ten kinds of toothpaste.

I think back to my days of working in the third world. That once upon a time when I brought two of my foremen to Houston for training and as part of their free time I took them to Target. There were stacks and stacks of things filling the aisles. Creams to remove hair, creams to color hair, plastic containers of all sizes, a dozen kinds of mouth wash and so on. Thousands of useless items if one thinks about it.

My friend asked me, "What do you do with all this? What is it good for? Couldn't the money you waste on these things be better spent?"

"Ahh, no. We need fifty kinds of cereal." A stupid thing to say to a guy that only has one kind of manioc to eat everyday of his life with a few fish thrown in.

Of course I bought him a pile of useless stuff so when he got back home he would be admired and highly thought of and be able to show off the funny things that those crazy Americans have. He wanted a photo in front of the toy section. Toys...hmmm.

But we know what God said, "Be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and every living thing that moveth upon the land..."

"All that You have brought us and all that you have done to us, You have done in justice..."

All these disasters can happen here and they can happen to me.

The American has gotten too smug. They have never smelled death and the stench of rot. The go to the HEB and buy cans of spray that cover the smells of reality. Bathrooms have two or three cans spray or bowls of stinky (to me) leaves that remind me of those Mexican whore houses I frequented in my youth.

Smell abatement chemicals that no one in Pakistan, Honduras, El Slavador have ever heard of.

That same foreman who was so amazed added that the United States lacks smell.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Mark Morford, my favorite columnist from the Bay Area. His "Notes and Errata," weighed in on this very topic this morning--snippit "...tragedy overdosed, Bush-ravaged, violence numbed heart..."
Google up Mark Morford to find the link I couldn't provide it here. Rules...

8:18 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

I made a small change to the post around 11:30, to help the flow of the piece.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Los said...

The connection to our conscience has withered dry from ill use or no use for that matter. Our world's development has largely focused on building the intellectual and so the development of the emotional has suffered. There is so little empathy in the world. We are at the point that one has to actively work to feel empathy if their is a care for the world because our programming is rooted so deep in apathy. Gurdjieff said most have developed their emotions to that of a 13 year old. I have to agree with this observation.

FM said:
Viewing 30,000 killings a year dramatically depicted on tv leads to a harding of the heart, too, and innures us to violence.
I suppose there is a need to play the blame game to shift some of this enormous weight from our collective shoulders.

Perhaps it is the insincerity of media that causes any hardening of the heart. However, one can choose other outlets of information, others that are more sincere. I don't think its the suffering of people that 'hardens hearts' but the lack of care towards others suffering is what hardens, imo.

This blame game in the context being spoken about, does not 'shift any weight', in my opinion, it just denys it exists. And by doing so allows this weight to grow.

However, in another context, sometimes the 'blame game' should be played. There are many who are often responsible for the suffering of others, often those who we look to as our leaders. It is our responsibility if we allow such destructive acts to occur over and over again - we must include ourselves also in this 'blame game' if we want to begin to DO anything.

Or so I think.

9:02 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

very nice Cave Man, C.L., JK, FM, Lem, anons,,,,thoughtful comments all.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Urban Denizen #512 said...

ON bad construction:

Hernando de Soto, the peruvian economist, author of _The Mystery of Capital_ and nobel prize candidate, is/was quite prolific in discussing third-world entrepreneuralism and the development of real estate, the world over.

The premise of his writings are largely historical and surmise that nation states not unlike Pakistan are victim to extralegal, unlicensed development. The examples are countless, but unlike the industrialized nations, third-world nation states allocate monies for building and infrastructure sporadically, build one story, state-owned structures, only to release the deed, only to come back years later to find a five-story building. Usually the top four stories are owned by a collection of independent people, tenanted by the same people, only to have no recourse in "tearing down and evicting" the innocents that now inhabit the top four stories. The construction is often "shoddy," but generates much not only for the people that inhabit the space but the people that own and built the spaces to begin with. And of course, this creates an off-paper economy that cannot be quantified.

In the case of emergency, not unlike what we've witnessed with the tsunami and now the earthquake, there is no legal recourse because technically those top four stories do not exist, despite the fact that 1,000s are dead or dying beneath the carnage.

Such is the case all over the world. Egypt, Pakistan and India are prime examples.

Before one jumps to conclusions, I'll be quite direct in saying that I am not blaming anyone; this is a ntural part of "life." I will say however, that nation states not unlike the aforementioned do not have the depth, breadth and constitution to develop proficiently, and rather than build half of in the case of the example, one-fifth of the infrastructure its probably best nothing is built at all. After all, the invisible hand will get you one way or another.

There are no contradictions. If one walks upon a contradiction in the road, check the premises and kill the fallacious premise.

In short, it is nature's job to kill, just as it is nature's job to sustain. Governments, third-world or no, usually quantify the problem because governments forecast on direct consequence as opposed to the more detrimental latent consequence.

Everyone here rightfully criticizes bad domestic policy. Isn't it high time we criticize bad policy abroad?

9:02 AM  

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