It’s Sunday morning. I thought I would buy a newspaper and catch up on all the awful things that are currently happening around the world, particularly in the Middle East.
I’m not a journalist, I’m not a political commentator, I’m not a historian but I hope I’m a human being. I have a heart and I feel empathy and horror when I see other human beings in distress. And a lot of human beings are in distress. Almost certainly a lot of human beings are in distress of varying degrees all the time. But it seems as if the world stage is fully taken up with human beings in distress, and that includes the other human beings who are causing the distress, having themselves their own particular distress.
It’s ghastly watching or reading the news. I look at the headlines and pick a paper, usually The Independent. Then I open the paper or turn the television on with trepidation; how awful is it going to be? How many people have died or been injured in horrible circumstances? Who is going to their aid? Is anyone going to their aid?
Politicians are not, generally, in the business of humanitarian aid, for all their words to that effect. Politicians are in the business of looking after their own interests. Hence the humanitarian disaster that is Syria goes on, and on. The humanitarian disaster playing out in Gaza, on a smaller scale than Syria, thank God, has been eclipsed (conveniently?) by another humanitarian disaster happening in Iraq. And the Ukraine is in there somewhere too, and Mr Putin… But this time, in Iraq, we see David Cameron and Barack Obama jumping up to denounce this particular disaster and dropping a few bombs, which they hope are strategically placed and then saying to the world and each other, okay, that’s sorted now. Nothing more needed there. How would they feel, I wonder, if they were to spend a few days, or even hours, walking in the shoes of a Yazidi, or a Palestinian, or a Syrian refugee. Or even a few days in the shoes of an ISIS warrior, to have some insight into their particular view of their reality, as in the suggestion of the unknown North American Indian: to paraphrase – you cannot judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.
However, there are a few little lights going on in a few places, in a few people’s hearts. As follows:
Robert Fisk writing in The Independent on 26 July under the heading, “What if it had been 35 Palestinian dead, and 800 Israeli?” goes on to say, within the article, “Impunity is the word that comes to mind…..Because – and this has been creeping up on me for years – we don’t care so much about the Palestinians, do we?”
Jon Snow, reporting on Channel 4 News, from Gaza a couple of weeks ago, and visibly moved by what he was witnessing and reporting on, made a You Tube video expressing his concern and his emotional response to the devastation and destruction he saw. It has now been watched by over a million people.
The Independent on Sunday, 17 August, included an article informing us that the United Nations top humanitarian official in the Middle East “issued an impassioned appeal for a new deal for Gaza to end the ‘collective punishment’ of its 1.8 million inhabitants imposed by Israel’s seven-year blockade of the territory”.
In the same paper the Comment article is by Sir Richard Shirreff, until recently the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He expresses his opinion on the “spineless lack of leadership…” and says, about what’s happening in Iraq, “If the right thing must be done, then have the guts to do it, irrespective of focus groups”.
It still comes from the heart and is concerned with what is happening to other human beings, expressing empathy as well as frustration.
News reporting is including emotion, which it must when what is being reported is obviously having a huge emotional impact on the reporter and the readers and viewers. This is a human response to human suffering and distress. We empathise and this is essential because if we do not, then we are lost. Our humanity,that which makes us human, is lost.
It was not always so, and some journalists argue that news reporting should be “straight” so that those receiving the news can make up their own minds. But a report, such as Robert Fisk’s or a video like Jon Snow’s are not necessarily putting forward a point of view which is intended to manipulate or persuade their readers and viewers. They are pointing out and standing up for something that is patently obvious and to ignore it, to not acknowledge it, would be impossible, if not actually morally wrong. They are pointing at suffering. An emotional response is not the same as a point of view.
A few days ago I watched “The Pianist” on television. It is the story of what happened to the Jews in Warsaw in the second world war, told through the eyes of a pianist who escaped the deportations to the concentration camps and somehow survived to tell the tale. I wondered how much the Israeli aggression and bullying comes from repressed anger and humiliation at what happened to them then. A political “peace” and “solution” means nothing and indeed will not work if there is no possible peace, which must include forgiveness, in the hearts of any side in any conflict.
If you start looking, and I have, evidence of emotion, feelings of indignation, empathy, compassion, is there. It takes a change of perspective to see it and it is the only thing we have to give us hope for something better than what we are currently witnessing in so many places – the execution of power over others at any cost.
It is our emotions that make us human, that give us the quality of humanity. Carolyn Myss, an American medical intuitive and writer says this, “Emotions tell the truth. If we open ourselves to feel what others are feeling, we then must either act on that input or consciously act against it, thereby denying our own emotional experience. This is valid both in terms of how we interact within our personal lives and how we interact in the larger, impersonal area of our institutions. Consider that we go to great lengths to keep emotional input out of business, politics, government and other major decision-making institutions. We are, as a whole, not prepared to respond to the emotional input of other people and of the other kingdoms of life.”
This was written in 1999 in “Creation of Health”, co-authored with Dr Norman Shealy. Fifteen years later emotions are creeping in, as above, and personally I think this is good thing. Without them we can never learn to feel compassion and without compassion and forgiveness and hope nothing will change.