What Typhoon Haiyan Can Teach Us About Compassion

As found at http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/blog/2014-01-13/what-typhoon-haiyan-can-teach-us-about-compassion

A couple of months ago, Typhoon Haiyan devastated thousands of lives in the Philippines, wrecking communities and tearing families apart. These people, unconnected to most of the world prior to the disaster, soon became the center of our attention, as the rest of us shuddered to envision our own communities and families disappearing from around us.

It is a bittersweet trend that has arisen in recent years in which the suffering of others far away brings us closer to them. The outpouring of funds, volunteers, and goods proves that our compassion can extend beyond physical and social barriers to help those most in need. Schools, congregations, and the like band together to do what they can for the victims – people, we quickly realize, who are in many ways like ourselves. Media images of distraught parents and desperate children poignantly hit home, showing families beside the ruins of houses or amongst what were once their own schools and congregations. For the weeks in which the suffering in the Philippines dominated news headlines, we empathized not with their specific plight, but instead on a more fundamental level: with their need for health, safety, and wellbeing.

Now a couple of months later, other concerns and festivities take up our attention, and the plights inflicted by Typhoon Haiyan have trickled from newscasts and discussions. Thoughts of those in the Philippines have been stowed as a memory of a movement, no longer stirring the compassion and union that spurred a movement initially. Although waning empathy is unfortunate, it is only inevitable that others’ struggles slip out-of-mind as they fall out-of-sight.

It is incredibly valuable to remain resolute, in part because it is so easy to assume that our help is no longer needed. It is in the lull between disasters, when popular attention diverts to other matters, that it is most important we stay attuned, to reach out to our global community even when its voice in the media has become quiet. In the far aftermath of devastations, we can still relate to the care we felt for those who suffered and lend a hand to those around the world when few recognize a hand needs lending. With those memorable events in our heads and our hearts, we can reach out those who could always use our help in obtaining the same simple luxuries of health, safety, and wellbeing we afford our own.


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