Friday, December 31, 2004

A deeper wave than this

The past week can both sadden and uplift any thoughtful mind.

Under all the talk about how much the Western nations ought to give in the efforts to help survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, something more important has been left unsaid.

Nobody questions this basic idea: ability to help implies a duty to help. Even when the people who need our help are on the far side of the world, nobody questions our duty to help them if we can. Nobody humane enough to take seriously, at any rate.

This is a hopeful fact of the modern era. On the vast time scales of geology and history, there is nothing new about this disaster. Thousands of human lives cut short by the forces of nature is a sorrow as old as time, but our ability to help one another grows year by year. More importantly, our will to help one another is rapidly catching up with our ability.

There will always be room for improvement in our response to crisis. Still, as we pass into a new year, we can take a moment to celebrate how far we have advanced.

In earlier centuries, most survivors of any disaster this huge would be on their own in the struggle for survival, after losing everything they had. The death toll in the weeks, months, and years after the disaster would be many times higher than the number killed by the actual event. Our emerging world community gives humans the power to vastly reduce that misery and suffering.

I am gladdened any time we use such power for such good purposes.