Where is my Consciousness of Vigilance?

Image taken from CNN Heroes

Phymean Noun didn’t think twice about tossing the remnants of her lunch into the trash heap as she walked down a busy street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.  But she certainly wasn’t prepared for what followed.  She witnessed several children fighting each other for her chicken bones.  It horrified her.  But it also motivated her so that six years later, Phymean Noun spent $30,000 of her own to feed, clothe, educate and provide health care to 240 children from a trash dump.

I heard today on some television program, the comment in the form of a question in relation to the Victorian bushfires: ‘Why does it take such extreme tragedies to motivate us to care and give?’

I’ll be honest.  Much as I am inclined to agree with the comment I cannot be sure if the assertion is valid.  It implies that we tend not to give unless there is a (much publicized) catastrophe.  In other words, it takes a lot to move us out of apathy or complacency to activate our charitable joints toward our fellow human beings.  It would seem that our tolerance for the hardship of others is increasing, while, dare I say it, our tolerance for our personal hardship keeps plummeting (consider the increasing number of people on anti-depressants, painkillers and other pharmacological modifiers).

That said, it is true that these sorts of events and, at least as importantly, the reporting of them, are able to attract mass and rapid reactions in the form of cash and kind.  In the meantime, however, silent and invisible tragedies happen throughout the world everyday:

“Imagine the horror of the world if a major earthquake were to occur and people stood by and watched without assisting the survivors! Yet every day, the equivalent of a major earthquake killing over 30,000 young children occurs to a disturbingly muted response. They die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

UNICEF, Progress of Nations, 2000

I think the words ‘scrutiny’ and ‘conscience’ are important for it seems to me that I, for one, am not preoccupied with maintaining a consciousness of vigilance over the welfare of my fellow human beings, particularly when I maintain an array of ‘local’ interests and responsibilities that justifiably claim all my energy and attention; interests and responsibilities that promise a return on investment for me, be they in the form of children, a career, a mortgage or financial security.

It is not because things are out of my sight that they stay out of my mind.  On the contrary, it is because they are out of my mind that they remain out of sight for if I did have a consciousness of vigilance, I would be actively seeking to identify my less fortunate brothers and sisters and find ways to help them.

I imagine there would be a sense of urgency and/or commitment, not unlike that of Phymean Noun‘s that would keep me restless until I gave it due attention, the kind that would leave me feeling as if there was still unfinished business to attend to as I went to bed each night.  Somehow, I don’t believe it would be a disturbing or anxiety causing sort of restlessness.  Rather, it would be a ‘restlessness’ or ‘experience’ of eagerness, of enthusiasm, a creative energy that would invigorate rather than tire me for there would certainly be no guilt around it!  And, if Lao Tze is right, this experience, despite being drawn upon, ‘will not run dry’.

6. Experience

Experience is a riverbed

Its source hidden, forever flowing

Its entrance, the root of the world

The Way moves within it

Draws upon it, it will not run dry.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you feel you have become desensitized to the suffering of others?  Or are you ‘restless’ to seek and help them?

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the Wisdom of the Tao post by post!