Friday, December 31, 2004

Perspective Vortices

The events of the past few days have certainly put my little problems into some perspective. I'm going to do something I have never done before, and pass along a bit of an editorial comment by the CBC's Rex Murphy. I can't recall his exact words, but they were very close to this: just by being born in the West, we have each already won the only lottery that really matters, and we have had the benefit of those winnings from the first time we drew breath.

I have had to do things to survive that many of you would find distasteful or even morally repugnant. The last couple of months have certainly been no picnic. In the final analysis, though, I have been extremely lucky. I have some ability, yes, and that has lifted me to a level above tens, even hundreds of millions of people in the affluent West who will never know the chances I have been given simply by having a natural talent for mathematics. Yet even when I was working 56 back-breaking hours a week shining shoes for tips and could afford none of the trappings of our modern consumer society, when I would have thanked you for a one-hour-less-than-full-time job at a burger joint, I was still much better off than a significant portion of our little world's people. Even when I was homeless and had to stab that fellow to keep him from stealing my blanket and spare socks, I HAD a blanket and spare socks.

Most of the time, I am able to keep that sort of thing in mind. Whenever I've had more than I actually needed to get by, I've given to charities and individuals (a little more than ten percent of my gross income last year, for instance). While I can't fix the world all by myself, I have tried to look after a few of the less-fortunate people in it, both through blind giving to local and international organisations that do more than run trite commercials, and through actively involving myself in the lives of those people I think I can reach. Tikkun ha-olam, the Jews call it, and although I am not Jewish (except, perhaps, philosophically), I have tried to make it the central principle of my life since I regained my sobriety. (Those of you who have a mind to can probably blame Rabbi Michael Lerner for that.)

Sometimes, though, my own relatively petty problems can lead me away from that guiding principle. The past few weeks have been a great example. I was hungry, not starving; I was looking at the possibility of homelessness, but I still lived indoors. And I sincerely thank those among you who have offered support and encouragement -- but at the same time I'd like to tell you all to look elsewhere in the world for people who may not know much about Notes or programming in general, but who need your help far more than I ever have needed or will need it.

The Sumatran earthquake and tsunami has killed, or will kill, something in the neighborhood of a quarter-million people. Along with the initial impact of the waves, there will be as much or more devastation caused by exposure, starvation and disease, and that's if we in the West do all that we can right now, today, to mitigate the catastrophe. As bad that has been, though, we have the exact same things going on in the world every hour of every day. The difference is that this time the causal event took only a few seconds -- that's what made the news. We can all give till it hurts then wander off in a self-congratulatory stupor until the next newsworthy disaster.

Well, folks, there are more people homeless and starving, living in conditions that breed disease and death in this world than were affected by the waves. A very large number of them live only a few miles inland of the disaster, just out of reach of the aid that will be pouring in to the region. A few may be living closer to you -- so close you can't see them, except as a problem. When the tsumnami crisis is over and the nice, touristy coastal areas are rebuilt, please don't forget the rest of the world. Grab what pieces you can, and take them in for repairs. Please. I've seen what the Notes community can do for its own members -- imagine what it can do for the world.


Joe Litton said...

Man, I've been away from a lot of my blog-reading. Just now reading your last several posts. I'm not really one for "New Years resolutions" ...typically figuring that if something is worth doing, it's better to get to it than wait for a date that happens to use a new year number. Nonetheless, I did decide that I need to start and end each day acknowledging 5 things for which I am grateful. That is always an extremely easy task, and the positive effect on my psyche is very real. Being born in the west is SUCH a huge blessing.


Ed Brill said...

It's getting to the point, Stan, where I want to get on a plane to YUL just for a day so I can meet you for a cup of coffee. Your writing impresses more and more every time you blog.

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