In the midst of all of the back and forth about health care is a very simple question that doesn’t get asked often enough, loudly enough. “What kind of people are we?” As a nation, I mean, as brothers and sisters…more important, as neighbors.
The same question comes to mind as I look out at the alarming number of families living far closer to the edge than they ever expected thanks to the financial crisis. And again as we look at footage of devastated people in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, or the very recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. What kind of people are we? Will we look the other way, or will we fulfill our charge as fellow humans and reach out to offer a helping hand?
Are we compassionate? Do we care about the fates of others? Are we ready to help those who need us? Do we, it must be asked, do unto others as we would have them do unto us? At least on the evidence of the treatment of the victims of natural disasters, we’re pretty good people. We react and quickly to rally to aid those suffering the horrors of the forces of nature gone amok. Money, food, water, medical care, and more; the general public does seem to leap into action (in the case of Katrina, however, the official forces were so much slower in their leap, that years later, many still suffer).
But the lack of adequate and affordable health care and the home foreclosure crisis are no less human disasters, and claim victims in the millions. It seems to me, there is less galvanized and immediate response to those suffering from these unnatural disasters. Maybe because many of those who act the quickest and give the most to disaster relief, that is the common people, are also those most affected by these quieter calamities? I don’t know…
Obviously, the golden rule has lost some of its luster with far too many people. Many cite business practicality, or political reality as reasons not to help those in need. Many of those often blame the victims and suggest that their plight is their own making and no one else’s problem to address. Would those who would deny basic care to the sick, financial relief to the economically ruined, or shelter to the homeless, really want like treatment visited upon them? Would those imperious, impervious few truly be okay if an equal measure to their meager compassion was sifted stingily into their laps in their hour of need? Many of those who have much, it seems to me, are so unwilling to let the needy have even a morsel, for fear that their own fortunate lives will be diminished. Perhaps they simply are unable to envision these dreadful fates befalling them, so secure are they in their affluence.
What kind of people are we?
Why are so many resisting basic better lives for the common people? Why are so many protecting concepts and positions over the lives of fellow human beings? It’s not members of specific political parties who die without access to reliable medical care, it’s human beings. It’s not numbers, or statistics losing their livelihoods and their homes, it’s human beings. It’s not utter strangers, or lesser beings, suffering and struggling and failing, it’s human beings. Fellow human beings. Neighbors. People just like you and me. People also just like those who would stand against aiding the neediest.
What kind of people are we? Ultimately, I believe we are all the kinds of people who–but for the grace of God–could be easily among the vast ranks of the unfortunate.
So, do we wish to be known as a people who can turn our backs on our sisters and brothers in times of need? Do we want to be a people who define the world in terms of us and them? Do we really need to preserve political distinctions over preserving the quality of life for everyone?
God, I hope not.