When I first heard of the Haitian earthquake, and all the devastation, all I could think of was in Star Wars when the planet Alderaan is destroyed, and Obi-Wan Kenobi shudders, feeling a giant cosmic sob of grief. It is the only reaction that makes sense to me. But then, on the second day of class, I made the mistake of bringing Haiti up to my students, some of whom had a very strong reaction.
"Why do we have to be everyone's big brother? We don't belong there." But, but, I said, there are so many hurt, someone has to help them. "There are homeless people downtown, and we're not helping them." Really? I said. You want us to help our own homeless while the bodies rot in Haiti? "Yeah, well, it doesn't always have to be us. Besides, Haiti used to have a functional democracy, and the people let it fall back into corruption and chaos. This is what they deserve."
That question, "Why do we have to be everyone's big brother," rings in my head. It implies that somehow, Americans should be separate from responsibility to anyone else. I didn't think of it at the time, of course, but I should've pointed out that we as 5% of the population consume 25% of the world's resources. That we throw out 200,000 tons of edible food EVERY DAY. That daily, Americans use 6x more water than over half of the world's population.
The depth of suffering on that little island exhausts me. So does the bureaucracy that keeps people from getting the help available. But even more devastating, to me, is the idea that my students expressed: that somehow these people don't deserve help, and that Americans need to focus more on taking care of our (already spoiled) selves than those suffering the most. I don't know what to say in the face of that idea, because it is such a cold and foreign thought to me.
I hope somehow all who can be saved are saved, and those who cannot suffer as little as possible. I hope people get safe, and fed, and learn to bear their grief. And I hope my students can learn to be more compassionate, and never suffer such devastation as this.