I cannot live life without passion. If I don't feel it towards something, I have trouble being part of it. This, I think, is why I tend to let so many lacklustre friendships and unexciting events fall to the wayside or go unattended. I have trouble mustering a feigned excitement for something that doesn't spark within me in some way. Of course, the result of this is that I love the people who I do bother to keep in contact with deeply, and I have an enthusiasm for the things that I choose to do that could be called obnoxious. I throw myself into things wholeheartedly. It's just who I am, and so far it's working for me (though I do sometimes wish I made more effort to keep in touch with people).
One passion I have is for empathy, compassion, and my desire to help make this world a better place than it was when I came into it. I haven't been doing enough to fulfill that desire lately (by any means), and I can feel the absence of it in my life. It's that absence that has led me to start sending out volunteer applications to causes that matter to me. It's interesting, then, that the Yarn Harlot posted an entry today about New Orleans. I remember when Katrina hit, wanting to leave school for the semester and go to help rebuild. I wanted to uproot myself and replant in a place where I could help others re-establish their roots. I saw a concrete opportunity to help make a difference for people who need it, and I didn't take it. So, I read Stephanie's post about the state of things there, commented, and proceeded to read the comments of others. One in particular struck me at my core, hurt me in a deep way, even though it was not a personal attack. One blogger wrote, "As a response to both the post and the comments... It's not the government's job to make sure people have food, clothing, and shelter. It's our responsibility to make sure we have food, clothing, shelter, and the means with which to acquire them. America doesn't ascribe to "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." We demand a certain level of personal responsibility. The mayor and governor *didn't* ask for help from the federal government (which it certainly could have, but, you know, politics got in the way), which is a major reason why federal help (and the Red Cross) weren't in the city ASAP."
I was taken aback. It pains me to see such a lack of compassion from anyone. I had to write myself an email just to get the instant and overwhelming rush of emotions out of my head and into the ether in a place where they can do no harm. I just keep asking myself so many questions about how this person and people like her whose responses I've read must think. My inner empath is enraged by the response of so many people to what has been lost. Are the losses any less painful because of who it was that lost them? Are we to feel less for the people who are homeless and living in FEMA shacks because "they didn't have that much to begin with"? How can we let our own justice department spend $60 per person on their lunches when there are people who don't have $60 to spend on food for their families for a week? There is no justice in suffering and poverty, no matter who endures it.
And what can be said to this blogger who says that it's not our government's job to help these people? Are we, as a democratic nation, not supposed to be the core behind our government? If we show indifference and do not ask the government to be accountable, how can we demand accountability from anyone?? If the people who we select to represent us are not asked to take care of these people, are we not thus absolving ourselves of responsibility to help our fellow man? The commenter says that "we are not a nation that ascribes to 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. [and that] we demand a bit more personal responsibility." But what are we as people, as human beings who are inextricably connected and tied to one another as brothers and sisters in the human race if we do not make it our personal responsibility to help one another simply because it is the RIGHT THING TO DO? How can anyone look at human suffering and decide that it is not his or her problem? We are only as great as the kindness that we show to our weakest, our most disadvantaged, our forgotten.
This sadness and outrage (partnered with a hope that I cannot stifle) is the what led me to be a Sociology major. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn why (and hopefully change the fact that) we as a nation allow some people in our country to suffer so terribly while throwing millions and billions of dollars at judicial luncheons and galas at the White House and multiple homes and luxury cars and Paris Hilton and ... ugh. I have to step off of the soapbox for my own sanity's sake, but we Americans are a confusing culture with wonky values, to say the least. I almost have to thank that commenter for the way that what I can only see as her ignorance has re-ignited the desire in me to use every moment of my life to make a change.