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?
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…excellent piece, m’Lady, Marianne…trying to re-blog 🙂
I’m a foreigner myself where I’m living, and I know how I’m thankful to be treated. There are always those who are selfish. The rest of us have to make up for it.
I grew up an immigrant child in northwest Canada. I was Swiss and everyone thought I was German. My parents were different. It’s nothing like what coming to Europe would be for an African, but it gives me some empathy. I’m sometimes appalled at how little empathy and understanding even my friends have for foreigners.
Beautifully put. I was talking with a friend earlier about the same thing. It is something that’s in the forefront of everyone’s mind, one way or another. My personal feelings are that if people are in danger, in fear for their lives, we help them, no matter what. These are not people who lived in mud huts in Africa – not that it would make it any better if they were, you understand. They are ordinary folk, who lived in ordinary houses, went to work, ate pizza in front of the tv, they used mobile phones and computers, their children probably had play stations and loved chips. Now, they have nothing but the clothes they stand up in and the fear within. Can we imagine living like that? Can we imagine having to run for our lives and trusting someone – anyone – in the hope they will take us to safety in their lorry and paying lots of money to them and ultimately losing everything we had left, in many cases our very lives?
Yes, there is a helplessness within us but we do have the opportunity not to turn our backs on nearer people who might need our help. It’s what we need to do, what we should do, if we can live with ourselves at all..
There’s still that huge ‘ohnmacht’ about the whole situation. That there are such a multitude of people fleeing their homes, more than ever in history before us. Sometimes I feel that the evil in the world is taking over. That’s when kindness to our neighbour, whoever he/she might be, a smile, can go a long ways. And like you said, to be there – even to offer ourselves – for those needing us in our communities. It’s easy enough to feel outrage and ohnmacht at what’s going on out there, it’s another to actually take action here at home, where we can. It takes effort. It takes time. And we have to get off our butt to do so.