by Rabbi Rami Shapiro: “If we are going to survive as a species worthy of survival, we will have to get beyond the limits of ‘us’ verses ‘them’ and open to the truth of all of us together…”
Are people naturally good or naturally evil?
I put this question to myself as I listened to an NPR report on Greek citizens seeking to stop Syrian refugees from coming to Greece through Turkey. The refusal of the Greek government to allow refugees in has led to the deepening of an already horrendous humanitarian crises endangering the lives of thousands of women, men, children, and even babies. What shocked me most was listening to the chanting of Greek citizens at the border: “We don’t care about the babies! They’re not our babies!”
What does it say about us as a species that we don’t care about babies unless they are our babies? And who are “our” babies anyway?
Before you labeled your babies Syrian, Turk, Greek, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, etc. they were human. Your babies were our babies; human babies. So, when and why does our compassion for all babies get replaced by callousness toward “their” babies? When does love your neighbor get dumbed down to “love your neighbor as long as that neighbor is just like you”? When does the chant “We don’t care about the babies! They’re not our babies!” seem justified?
The answer is simple: When we are afraid.
When we are afraid, we believe that helping others somehow endangers ourselves and our families. And when believe this we find it all too easy to excuse not helping and even harming. This isn’t a matter of Syrians or Greeks, this is a matter of us and them regardless of who “us” and “them” are.
What is happening at the Turkish-Greek border is happening at the U.S.-Mexican border as well. And it may soon be happening at the borders between states in the U.S. as people seek to escape the pandemic of COVID-19. As COVID-19 spreads, states will seek to keep out not only those testing positive for the virus, but those fleeing states where the virus has spread communally. How long before the borders of Idaho and Oregon are closed to people from Washington State? How long before Idahoans and Oregonians mass along their state lines shouting “We don’t care about the babies! They are not our babies!”
The more frightened we become, the more likely this scenario will translate into reality, and as it does the more people in power will take advantage of our fear to expand and secure their power. A recently retired friend of mine whose career was in crisis management shared his concern that our president will use the fear of COVID-19 to “postpone” the presidential elections in November in the name of national security and public health. Or that fearmongers will use the crisis to suppress the vote if they believe doing so will enhance their power. I’m not saying this will happen, but I will not be surprised if it does.
This is tribalism gone mad. It is tribalism that threatens the humanity of humans.
Tribalism isn’t the same as tribe. You can belong to a tribe without falling victim to tribalism just as you can be a proud patriot without falling victim to nationalism. The former is expansive, the latter is constrictive. The former empowers you to be courageous and kind, the latter frightens you into being cowardly and cruel.
If we are going to survive as a species worthy of survival, we will have to get beyond the limits of “us” verses “them” and open to the truth of all of us together. We will have to open our hearts and minds and remember that all babies are our babies. There may be no cure for COVID-19, but there is a cure for the far more deadly fear virus threatening the survival of humankind, and that cure is fearless love.