Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Things We Want To Teach Our Kids...

As an introduction to this, let me say, interwebs, you KNOW I don't get all preachy on you, like, ever. But this has been bothering me for days, and even at the risk of putting people off or losing followers, I have to share my thoughts on this.

I'm fairly certain none of us have been living under a rock as of late, so we all know that in early January, a 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, killing an estimated 200,000 people and orphaning tens of thousands of children in moments. The ground shook for 35 seconds. That's all the time it took to shatter bones, dreams, lives. There was, of course, as is the case with earthquakes, no warning. No way of knowing that in a matter of moments, life as you knew it (even then most likely riddled with uncertainties and poverty unlike anywhere else in the Western hemisphere) would never be the same.

As with the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, New Orlean's hurricane Katrina in 2006, the Ethiopian famine in 1984 and countless other natural disasters that have rocked our world in my lifetime, I was inspired by the generosity of spirit (and wallet) that I saw from not only my friends and local organizations, but also, as always, from the media and those in positions (either through entertainment or politics) to influence people to give what they could to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, etc. I am constantly amazed by how our cynical world transforms itself into a giant embrace of goodwill and giving when we see the mass suffering of our fellow human beings.

Which is why it bothers me to my core to see some of the anti-Haitian sentiment I've seen not only through nutjobs like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson--please, I expect nothing less from those characters. But within my own Twitter stream and Facebook status updates, I see people I know in one context or another (everything from family to a fellow blogger I've never met) posting things about how we should be ashamed of donating money to Haiti when we have our own problems as a country.

The one which bothers me in particular is one that is copied and pasted into the status update space, so not even someone's original thought:

"Shame on you America. The only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and repost this."

It's hard for me to even begin explaining all the WRONG I see here. I won't be a snark-ass and point out all the grammatical errors, but I will say whomever actually first posted this status update, and bullied the masses into copying and pasting it could have paid a bit more attention in 8th grade English. I'm just saying...

Let's now take a look at the "facts" included in the gem. America is the only country where we have homeless without shelter? America is the only country where we have children going hungry? Well, yes, I suppose it is the only country where "we" Americans have these things, because we ARE American.

But I assure you, oh anonymous first poster of this absurdly obnoxious status update, America is NOT the only country that faces the problems of homelessness, hunger, untreated illness, etc. And the fact that you think that? And think it strongly enough to actually post it for the world to see, and encourage others to post it for their worlds to see? I would be so embarrassed for you, were you not perhaps one of the most ignorant, isolationist, xenophobic individuals I've had the pleasure of not actually meeting. And to my friends and family who are smart enough to know this is NOT the case, but posted this in your status update anyway: I love you, but WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???

In 2005, there were 100 million homeless people in our world. Approximately 744,000 of them in America. A staggering, unacceptable number. But a far cry from us being the "only country" with homelessness.

And then there is the bullying. "Shame on you" and "you won't have the guts to repost this." This person, whoever s/he may be, clearly never heard of the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Really? America should be ashamed? It's interesting, because I recall donating to the Red Cross after both 9/11 and Katrina. I donate food to our local food shelters. My child gives tzedakah every Shabbat at his preschool (although, G-d forbid, that money went to buy a family in a 3rd world country a flock of chickens, so you know, clearly--shame on my son!). It's a mighty big assumption that just because I also donated money to help those devastated by the Indonesian tsunami and the Haitian earthquake that I am somehow leaving my fellow American to squander in their poverty. And to try to shame me, and to imply that I'm a coward for not agreeing with them that I should be ashamed? I have no words.

I do get that many people who posted that are probably "just trying to say" that as Americans we should take better care of our own. And I do not disagree with that. My politics, if anyone knows me, are liberal. Bleeding heartedly. I absolutely agree that we should be doing more; I pay my taxes dutifully and pray that the money I pay in taxes goes exactly to what the status post talks about: housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick. But, you and I both know that in some cases, it doesn't. Yes, some of it does. Absolutely. A sizeable portion. But the amount that goes elsewhere? Staggering. A quick google search of the expense of the Iraqi war to date? Unfathomable amounts of money. And we give money to terrorist insurgents so that they won't fight against our troops, while at the same time we have Vietnam vets living on the streets.

This is not to get all political, because I believe that our humanitarian consciousness is absolutely bipartisan. I don't know if the person who started that status update is a conservative, a liberal, a communist, a libertarian, an anarchist or what. My point is simply that as Americans, perhaps we don't do enough, but perhaps that is NOT entirely our fault, given that we do not have the option of dictating where exactly our tax dollars go.

But how is that the starving, broken orphan in Port-au-Prince's fault? And why should that child matter any less in my eyes than the child who goes to bed hungry miles away from me in another American city? Why should I be ashamed to share what I have with someone who lives outside of the boundaries of my own country?

Yes. We have problems here in the United States. We have a recession. We've always had homeless and hungry and uninsured. But we are also the richest country in the world. We have the resources, albeit poorly managed on an epic scale. To assume that we, as Americans, are in any way, shape or form in the same state of need as Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere even before the earthquake, and to assert that we should be ashamed for helping them in their hour(s) of need? Unconscionable.

While I hope that as Ethan grows up, we don't encounter more natural disasters in our world, I realize that that is an impossible wish. The earth will shake, the oceans will rise up, the sky above us will periodically seem to fall. And people will be in need. Not just in need of money, but in need of knowing that they've not been forgotten by their fellow humans. Likewise, though I pray for the end of hunger in our own country, I know that will continue as well, as will the other problems mentioned in the status update.

So while I know those circumstances of life will continue to be a part of our human experience, my hope is that Husband and I raise a child (and hopefully children) whose hearts are big enough to encompass a great scope of those who need. Volunteer, donate money and things, here in our own country on a regular basis. But to also reach out to those devastated and in need in other countries. My son does not look like the orphans of Haiti. Their lives, their experiences, their languages--they are all different. But they are the same. I hope we raise our child to be the type of person who will see the hand of G-d in being good and kind and generous to ALL people in need, not just those who happened to be born within the confines of the same country as them.


BeautifulWreck said...

You couldn't be more right. I was shocked when I too began to see these sentiments on Facebook and on Twitter from people I thought who, well knew better or had more compassion I guess.

I like your preaching. :)

jeanne said...

Well said!

Heather said...


Emi said...

Wow!! Right on sister!! Say it! Preach it! :-)

cicadalady said...

i haven't seen that yet on facebook and hopefully i won't. so ridiculous and heartless.

Anonymous said...

Well said. And I'll pass along those thoughts (well, more briefly, that is) on my fb should any of my fb friends be ignorant enough to post that.

KMW said...

I have not seen this yet! How awful!

Anonymous said...

I have been wrestling with this for the past week because friends of mine posted it and then tried to justify it. But the justifications were hollow. I love what you wrote. (And by the way..the main premise of the shame posting is entirely wrong...Canada held telethons too.)

Uncle Al

Jane Silvia said...

well put

miraclebaby said...

Amen to that! Sure, we have our problems, but does that shame us for helping people who are in a far worse situation than we are?! I rolled my eyes when I saw that status update.

Becca said...

Right on, Sarah!

kimberly/tippytoes said...

Agreed! I haven't seen that status update - thankfully, but I do tend to hide people who I think post pretty hateful things in general. Can I add that I am so sick of the "x% won't have the guts to repost this..." status update things going around?

lonek8 said...

beautifully written.

The only thing we should be ashamed of is that it takes a disaster of this magnitude to spur us to help those in need. There should be celebrity driven telethons to raise money for the needy in this country and in every country all the time. Well, not ALL the time because I like my regularly scheduled programming, but you know what I mean.

arnie draiman said...

well said.

and, fyi, jewishly, the law is that you help everyone (yes, local might count for more than foreign, but foreign still counts!).

and, for some great tzedakah ideas (for your kid/s), try:


arnie draiman

Anonymous said...

I like your coments but question your use of the spelling, G-d? Why do you not simply use 'God'?

sarah said...

Anonymous, in Judaism it is a widely held practice not to write the name of G-d out in it's entirety, as it is too precious a word to risk it being thrown away, or in the digital age, deleted.

Hope that clears that up.

Tricia said...

I totally agree with you!!