A Facebook Friend recently posted this picture, with a few words of empathy and ‘ohnmacht’ (German for powerlessness). The response to the post was immense. Each morning we open the newspaper to more stories of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean or suffocating in trucks coming from Eastern Europe. There are probably two main emotions evoked – ‘ohnmacht’ in the face of the desperate situation of these people and the countries they are fleeing from, and our inability to really help – or fear at the sheer numbers of people flooding our safe countries and upsetting the comfortable life we have a right to live because we are proper citizens of this country. The second response gets pretty good newspaper coverage too, as they burn the homes or prospective homes set up for refugees and parade the streets in demonstrations against the refugee policies of their government.
Those of us who feel empathy and ‘ohnmacht’ find ourselves shutting our feelings down. It’s just too much, we can’t do anything to help; the whole situation is too immense.
Then someone takes a picture like this one. It’s just one boy, drowned along with his family in an attempt to escape to a better life. Kids die in tragic ways all over the world, lots of them, every day. They die of malaria, of the effects of sexual slavery, as child soldiers, for lack of medical care. We know that. I think this picture brings all that to the forefront. The suppressed anger and helplessness, the frustration at inadequate governments and at brutal and useless wars comes to the surface when we see this boy. It’s a situation we can respond to.
One response to the post of my friend made me think – we can’t change what’s going on out there, but we can help the person in front of us today. There are things we can do. We can treat the foreigners among us with respect, dignity and friendliness. A smile goes a long ways. Those of us who have travelled and worked among a different culture can share our experiences with our friends and groups where appropriate to foster understanding. We can ask our community groups if we can help in some way.
There are refugees living in pretty well every village in Europe and most towns in North America. It isn’t an easy situation. What are your thoughts on this?