Suddenly there’s this picture of a boy, washed up on the beach after drowning in the sea between Turkey and Greece. He was just on his way to freedom, believed to be five kilometres away.
And suddenly (or once again) the world was divided. There were people who were crying at the sight of this little boy, who would never outgrow the toddler shoes on his sweet little feet. And there were people who said those people were not allowed to cry over this. Because we already knew refugees were drowning in the sea, right?
Yes, we all knew that. Just as we knew that somewhere in the world children are starving, girls are being kidnapped and raped, women are oppressed, textile factories are collapsing, ice is melting and chemicals are poisoning soil and drinking water in countries where they can’t afford medical care.
We’ve known all this since we were old enough to watch the news. We’ve known even more of this since the internet came and brought us not only Facebook, but also uncensored images and testimonies from all over the world.
But does that mean we’re not allowed to cry over this little boy on the beach?
I would say no. Not because I’m one of those people who cried and cried and is still crying over this one image. I would say no because I don’t know of any written rule nor an ethic rule saying you can’t cry over the horror taking place in the world.
But I do wonder what it means. Not so much the crying. But the resentment people feel towards it.
It’s hypocritical, some say, pointing towards the tabloids who are using the image to draw a red line, while all this time they were overtly critical towards the refugees coming to their country. It’s not compassion, it’s voyeurism, they say, pointing towards all the other neglected refugees, children or not, who have died in the past few months on the perilous track between oppression and freedom. More than that, it’s shameful, they say, pointing towards all the western powers who have kept Assad in power and why was that again?
Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. More important is the vehemence with which they question the tears of others. It seems they not only doubt their sincerity, they get really infuriated. Why?
I’ve met two kinds of people who opposed to the tears. There are the people who get frustrated because they’ve cared all this time for the refugees (or starving children/raped girls/oppressed women), and cannot stand the sudden tears of the mass. You didn’t cry and certainly didn’t move a finger for all the men, women and children who also lost their lives in the mediterranean this summer, they say, so you don’t get to cry over this one. In other words: you have to earn the right to cry, by consistently and actively showing you care. Otherwise your tears are just occasional, and thus not real.
And then there are the cynics. The people who counter every expressed emotion with reason. They seem to represent a vast majority, if you look at newspapers and other media. As soon as some sort of emotional outburst takes place in society, say after a terrorist attack, a plane crash, or the brutal picture of a dead toddler that goes viral, people start to analyse the outburst. Instead of focusing on the underlying cause of the public grief, they look at the manifestation of it – and come up with all sorts of reasons to condemn it, as if they want to silence all those crying hearts. Although their arguments may be different, they have the same mistrust as the already caring people: all those tears are not real.
But, that’s what I ask myself then, how could they not be real? How could you not be moved by the image of that poor little boy, this short life that ended as a dead stick on the shore? Frankly, I would be more cynical if you weren’t.
Truth is, if you ask me, that all those furious people are not that different from the ones who cry. Deep down they cry for the same reasons all of us do, because we don’t only see a dead boy lying in the sand, we see his helplessness, his innocence, we see our own children, we see fathers and mothers, we see his mother putting the little shoes on these tiny feet and we see ourselves, getting our children dressed in the morning for another day further in this future which is all the more insecure and besides the fact that we are endlessly sad about this brutal death, we are frightened. Because if these things can happen to humanity, where does that leave humanity?
Well, sadly enough, it leaves humanity all the more divided.
Between what though?
“All of us,” writes the Dalai Lama in his latest book ‘Beyond Religion’, “all human beings are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. [ ] Our inner lives are something we ignore [but] We are all, by nature, oriented towards the basic human values of love and compassion. [ ] The essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.”
Deep down we’re not divided at all. We are all human beings. We are all deeply touched by this little boy. We are all well aware that this happens in a world where humans are pulling the strings, and that gives us all an astonishing sense of alienation. There may be a difference in manifestation. But why don’t we skip the part where we argue over this and tune in on what we share: our true nature of love and compassion.
Just imagine how by doing this, we could change the world this boy wanted to live in.