January 12, 2023
Happy New Year
The skies have been grey since memory allows. The weather was much more appealing when it snowed for days on end, then abated, then snowed some more. The weather and its nature were doing what they do in winter, or at least how it used to be in Central Poland. There was a time when four seasons could be identified by an exact date, almost like the flip of a switch. The celebrations of the winter solstice, decorating the tree, of holly and mistletoe and the lighting of the candles all made more sense in the snow. Is that really the point though? Am I so distressed about the weather, or is it something else?
The once-expected cycles of nature are no longer predictable, thus here I sit beneath grey skies/warm weather. The weather is changing. This is a fact. More to the point, the climate is changing, but so seems to me the climate of the collective. This is my uneasiness. These are my questions.
Are we more ethical than we were 200 years ago? We were slaveowners. Women had no rights. Children under ten worked in factories without health or safety measures in place. This must be the wrong question as clearly, we were not.
A young philosopher William MacAskill, who has coined a new word: “long-termism”, suggests humanity has the moral responsibility to protect the future. This philosophy more closely defines what bothers me. In an interview on NPR from his book What We Owe the Future, he says: “If you’re thinking about the possibility of harming someone, [it doesn’t] really matter if that person will be harmed next week or next year, or even in a hundred or a thousand years. Harm is harm.”
We know when we hurt someone close to us that we must apologise, but how do we reconcile the unintentional harm we cause; the harm we cause from inaction or sheer helplessness? We know the reprehensible conditions under which the cobalt is extracted from the mines for our cell phones yet we continue to buy them. It somewhat reminds me of the young man who reproached Krishnamurti once for wearing leather shoes when K. turned to him and in a sharp tone said, “Sir. Make sure yours is the minimum”. I don’t know how to stop the artisanal mining in the Congo. If I thought that my puny contribution of not buying a cell phone would help, then I’d do it, but we all know the futility of such an action. If, say, 90% put down their phones, then this would be a game changer.
So what’s my point? The refugees are in our house, at least the house that we lease. It’s not our house, which causes me great concern because ultimately, this security too shall be taken away.
How long is too long to care for refugees? What determines the level of care extended to them? Who sets the standard? Why are they at risk of exploitation?
If one looks deeply at the word ‘long-termism’, would we make the same decisions? George Bernard Shaw felt that if man lived 300 years or more, he would be more inclined to make decisions favorable to the collective and not just for himself out of self-interest.
According to IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre) there are 59.1 million internally displaced people in the world. 53.2m by conflict and violence and 5.9m by disasters. Forty are living here. What is my responsibility to their great-grandchildren’s future? Do I have a responsibility to the unborn?
I did not go out seeking this situation. It knocked on my door and now that the situation is in the house that I lease, it is definitely, unequivocally my responsibility to do everything I can to support, partner and honor those souls who have crossed this threshold. It is my responsibility to act in their best interest, not in my self-interest.
There are a lot of ideas about how one should ‘handle’ the refugee crisis. Some ideas resonate with me, like the careful transitional programs which protect mother and child, wisely relocating them, when necessary, from one place to another of equal or greater care. Most are tossed out when the host gets tired of them or can’t afford them or are annoyed by them due to personality clashes. The risk of exploitation is now thinly disguised, the longer the crisis continues. We simply don’t have enough sustainable programs in place for this transition to occur humanely.
I am also in favor of greater autonomy, but, here again, this takes patience and a careful plan forward if one is thinking in terms of the future, and not just today’s future but perhaps even hundreds of years into the next century.
Finally, I’m not sure why I’m thinking about this particular children’s story today, one that I read to Zachary over and over again when he was a boy, but I am and this is one of the things I remember. When the Skin Horse talks to the rabbit about being real:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but really loves you, then you become real.” The Velveteen Rabbit
Maybe because my experience in service to people who are displaced and without a home, a true home, not one that can be taken away again at any moment, that this reality has made me a better person. In so many ways it has made me real, the love that flows through me for them and the love that flows through them for me.