The Least We Can Do – Syria
Megan McCain recently complained that the American public was far more outraged by Miley Cyrus’s recent VMA performance than the tragedy unfolding for Syria’s child refugees. Of course, the VMAs are a lot more fun to watch than the latest humanitarian crisis. My own access to the news has become restricted to the hours when my daughter is asleep because of the disturbing and violent nature of the images being shown of Syria’s civil war (not that the VMA’s were much more child appropriate). Yet, I do believe that Americans and the rest of the world (at least the part that has access to electricity and TVs) have an obligation to pay attention to the suffering within our communities and around the world. The choice to stay informed or not has moral implications that affect who we are as individuals and as Americans.
No one looks forward to reading about or viewing the latest massacre. The plight that greets Syrian refugees once they cross the border does not make for a very entertaining conversation. Moreover, the situation in Syria is almost as confusing as it is depressing. Despite our continuous involvement in the Middle East, it remains a region that most of us (myself included) do not understand very well. Multiple groups make up the opposition to Assad’s regime. Some of the rebel forces are directly linked to terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, but no one can seem to agree on their true number and influence. The military, political, and academic elites are divided on the best U.S. response, although they do agree that none of the options are “good.”
Paying attention to such suffering is difficult. It invokes within us feelings of helplessness. Some might wonder what is the point of caring if there is so little that can be done. The need to do something is precisely why many advocate for U.S. military intervention. While others, such as myself, question whether a military intervention can end the violence. Perhaps more can be accomplished through aid and diplomatic efforts for a political resolution.
Irrespective of the path our national leaders choose, however, I believe that for us as individuals there is value to being witnesses — to opening our hearts to a small portion of the pain that our brothers and sisters are bearing. Acknowledging this incomprehensible tragedy is such a small act, but it is infinitely bigger than choosing to remain ignorant of the situation. In “The Value of Suffering” Pico Iyer describes a trip with the Dali Lama to a village decimated by the Japanese tsunami. He writes that seeing a tear run down the Dali Lama’s face, “made me think that you could be strong enough to witness suffering, and yet human enough not to pretend to be master of it. Sometimes it’s those things we least understand that deserve our deepest trust.”
The Dalia Lama had nothing to give the villagers other than his presence and sympathy. Likewise, sometimes the only thing to be done in the face of unbelievable horror and the seemingly unending pain that humans inflict upon each other is to give our attention. On these occasions, being a witness is both the least and the greatest thing we can do.
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” Mathew 25:45.
“the world of dew
is the world of dew
and yet, and yet…” (Kobayashi Issa, 1763-1827)