I was listening to NPR this morning on my way to work and heard the news about unrest in Bahrain (plus all the other countries that are experiencing civil unrest) and then got to thinking about what’s going on in Japan vs. Bahrain.
I think that there are two kinds of disasters (and yes, political upheaval is a disaster, at the time it’s happening): Unitive and divisive.
Political situations are always polarizing. I feel pretty confident about stating this as an absolute. You’ve got the side that agrees, and the side that doesn’t, and caught in the middle are the folks who either sort of agree, sort of disagree, or really would rather be left out of the whole thing altogether. Like the subsistence farmer, who doesn’t actually think a whole lot about it as long as he can make a living and feed his family and nobody bothers him. Anyway, these situations are by their very nature divisive ones, pushing people apart even in countries thousands of miles away.
Natural disasters can be much more unitive in nature. People can sympathize with the people suffering from the disaster. People far away pull together to help out those in need, across ideological boundaries and prejudices, because you’d want somebody to help you in the same situation.
And I know that nothing is as simple as that. It’s never so black and white. But I think also that there’s a human duty to help bring people together in divisive situations, too, because they require the most effort. I’m not saying that we do exactly the same thing as we’d do to help in a natural disaster. The core need is different in each situation. But we should address that need. If the need is manpower and food and water, then we need to pitch in to help with that. If the need is understanding and brotherhood, then we all need to pitch in and do our best to treat each other with respect.
(I think this may be part of the answer that other question I’m wrestling with.)