This is the phenomenon we live with every day. Every day we read in the papers – for those that still read papers – of horrors around us. Bombs dropped on hospitals and refugee camps in Yemen; Rohingyas slaughtered wholesale in Myanmar; Muslims lynched in India. Even husbands daily slitting their wives’ throats in the next town or district. Do we care? With television in every home and a cell phone in every hand, we get to see every torture and killing in gory detail and ghastly color. And we comfortably sip tea or tequila. Indifference is the failsafe armor that helps us see no evil, hear no evil.
How do we achieve such indifference? Children flinch when they see a person beating another person – or even a dog. But they soon learn, from their parents or some other mentor, that to try to stop such cruelty is risky. The bully is often a brute and takes poorly to counsel, let alone intervention. Why run the risk of unpleasantness when one can as easily walk away, shut the door and turn on the television. Indifference is a learned practice, and soon we can learn to be casually indifferent to killing. A kid who once flinched at the sight of a beaten dog may join other kids to poison a dog or burn a cat.
We go to the church and hear Jesus’s powerful instruction, “The last will be the first;” we enter a temple and hear Vivekananda chastising, “We have put our hands before our eyes;” we turn to a mosque and hear the Koran, “To help another is an act of piety.” Yet the supreme scripture we follow is that of private ease and convenience. Visiting the Lampedusa island in Italy, where scores of migrants have drowned trying to find asylum in Europe, Pope Francis said recently, “The culture of comfort makes us insensitive to the cries of other people. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn't affect me; it doesn't concern me; it's none of my business.”
In this ‘globalized’ world has now entered the murdering monarch, Covid19. Barring Antarctica and five remote islands, it has attacked every country, sickened 250 million and killed 5 million. Thousands who have recovered from its grip find themselves afflicted with lingering problems. Some vaccines have been developed, none fully effective and few without problems, and already rich countries are hoarding them at the expense of the poor countries. Meanwhile, the virus is mutating and generating deadlier variants. Barring the few foolish and foolhardy who won’t wear masks or keep social distance, we have globalized the terror of disease and death.
Why am I talking about this terrible blight? Because, cruel as it sounds, this terrible affliction is in the process of teaching us a profound and necessary lesson. Nothing levels us all, countries and individuals, as well as this fearsome pandemic that has terrorized the rich and poor, the educated and illiterate, the healthy and sick, for more than a year without mercy. Granted the affluent have more resources, countries with better healthcare have a better chance, but all are under threat.
It does me no good to have a mountain of masks and sanitizers if my neighbors are all sick and vulnerable. It protects a country very little to look after its people well if its trading and neighboring countries – these days that means a long list – have thousands of infected and infectious people. Like it or not, we swim or sink together. Our fates are intertwined. Nobody will be safe until we are all safe.
When the brutal slave system flourished in this and many other countries, for even a minor mistake a slave was mercilessly whipped and lashed, with lasting scars all over the body, essentially to warn all wayward slaves what was in store for them if they slipped. For twenty months now a mighty scourge has lashed us, specifically 250 million of us, and if its pitiless message of our unbreakable global link infects sixty persons for each virus victim, probably the most valuable lesson of this merciless epidemic would have reached all the 8 billion who now live on this planet.