A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ~Albert Einstein
On reading a few facebook status comments of a friend recently, I was shocked to see people commenting that they were getting fed up with messages about Haiti. One said that he would rather concentrate his energy on matters that interest him, mainly in his own country. I was appalled, wrote a response to express my indignation, but then thought about what makes some people tune out the feelings generated by catastrophes that happen far away, and how they reason that it is not neither their problem nor their concern to get involved, even on an emotional level. On the other hand, other citizens of the world feel so moved and willing to help on any level when their fellow humans are hurt, no matter how far removed they are. Then I thought of the film ‘Avatar’ that I recently saw, and the idea of connectivity that is the spine of the film came to my mind. How connected are we as a human race? How much do we really care for the hurt that befalls a group of us, that transcends borders and nationalism, religion, color and ethnic groups? Are we really connected on the emotional level? Do we care about our partners in humanity enough to bring about the connectivity and mutual help necessary for our survival?
The short answer is that I would like to think so. Regardless of how disappointed I felt when I read comments of my own countrymen and women about not really caring for what had befallen the tiny country in the Caribbean and wanting to concentrate their energy on their own home country, I started thinking of how many countries across the world, with concerned citizens and groups raced to help financially, morally, and by sending volunteers. Despite our strong nationalistic tendencies, I still find that the more we have ourselves, the more we care about fellow humans. Maybe it is a wrong conclusion. What leads me to believe that the Western more affluent countries of the world can afford to help, is that in general they have less immediate worries about their own survival and livelihoods. They usually don’t have to worry every day about dangers and survival issues that will make them turn away from other people’s problems.
This last statement must be a gross generalization that will get me in everyone’s bad books. But let’s think about this for a while. Let’s say you are the head of a Baghdad household, you live in fear of your family being torn to bits if they so much as go to a market, you have very little income, no electricity, uncertain future, would you be as concerned about a tragedy that has befallen another country continents away, as you would be had you been a Norwegian, living in Oslo, with all the perks of your democracy and oil rich economy and certain future and secure old age? It is a theory, and I don’t know if it holds true, but my general feeling is that people who are well taken care of in their own countries and who have no survival concerns can afford to care more about the problems of the globe than the citizens of countries plagued with insecurity and low survival coping mechanisms.
I am not trying to explain away the comments I read on the facebook wall, I am trying to understand why is it that some people care more about humanity’s problems than others. What are the impediments to our connectivity? Copenhagen’s Climate Change summit was a unique opportunity for humanity to reflect on its own common future. If we didn’t feel connected in Copenhagen as a human race with one single option for a a home, then we never will. Nationalistic squabbling aside, it is the citizens of the worlds’ countries and regions that felt as one during the event in Denmark, and this is what is important. It will be optimally those people themselves who will disagree with the narrow perspectives of their leaders and act collectively to bring about change that will prioritize our common future as Earth dwellers.
When will this happen? I would like to think that it will be soon, because we are already more connected than we ever were-thanks to social media and technological advances in communications. We are one web of traveling messages, pulsating among the trees as the Avatar movie described it, only those trees are us and the groups we belong to in reality. I can see that we are one click away from belonging to any group of globally concerned citizens that are motivated to bring about change. Not only through facebook and twitter, but using the web in general, we are a force to be reckoned with . It will be very hard for oppressive governments to contain the flow of information from one place to another, Iran’s revolts are a recent example of how the masses take matters into their own hands and get their message to the world. That story in Iran is far from finished. When there’s a will, there will definitely be a way, and the ultimate goal, for all of us, is our survival in freedom and dignity, with our rights intact.
Am I a dreamer? Maybe, but isn’t that what brought about change in the world all through our history? People with dreams and a nagging urge to realize them?
Dream on, people. And keep connecting to each other. Oh, and please go watch Avatar (it might make James Cameron richer-not that he needs it – but it might also motivate him to make similar movies with a forceful inspirational global message)