Tag Archives: stories

Dying to tell the truth

22 Feb

Syria. What a mess. The tragedy unfolding on our TV screens is becoming more bloody and horrific every day – each story more horrific than the last. I can hardly bear to watch the latest updates on the news. This is a country desecrated, human lives discarded. Hope is, it seems, being strategically and systematically eliminated.

Marie Colvin died in Syria today. A Western journalist, she worked for the Sunday Times and was completely committed to reporting from the front line of conflicts worldwide. She died so that we could know the truth, so that we could not plead ignorance, so that we could not ignore the horrors of war. She died telling the truth. Only yesterday, she witnessed the death of an two year old child injured in the shelling. Only yesterday, she was alive and telling us all a story. A story we desperately need to hear.

Marie Colvin was incredibly brave. In 2001, she lost an eye, having been hit by shrapnel in Sri Lanka. Yet she stood fast in her determination to tell the truth about brutal regimes, to inform the international community about wartime horror. She knew that someone had to shine light in the darkness, to tell the stories of ordinary lives destroyed by hatred, greed, and pride. Simply stated, in her own words, “our mission is to speak the truth to power”.

Yet what of the other lives lost today in Syria, the ones we will never hear about. The locals. The “unimportant” people. Those with ordinary lives. Lives disrupted forever by carnage and the abuse of power. Is one life ever worth more than another? As Marie herself said,

“For my part, the next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”

She knew, I think, that every life is infinitely precious. Is this something the rest of us often forget? Many of us find it far-too-easy to walk past the homeless alcoholic, passed out on the street. We have far less compassion for those we deem the “deserving poor” – the man who gambled away all his money and now has no food to eat, the pregnant teenager in an abusive relationship, the street kid who steals to survive. We seem them as “different” and end up having a sense-of-empathy failure.

We judge, before we know the whole story. We fail to really hear the stories of those different from us, those whose lives are blighted by poverty, pain and bad choices. We see the mistakes, yet fail to understand the brokenness that fuels such choices. We write people off before we have shown them the dignity each human being deserves. We write them off and fail to listen.

Each of us has a story to tell. The West delights in the mundanity of the lives of “celebrities”, stories of the rich, powerful and successful. Yet our shared humanity requires us to truly listen to those whose voices are obscured too. Such a belief led Marie Colvin to incredibly dangerous places, so that she could listen and tell us what she had heard. She died telling the truth. What an extraordinary, brave woman.

The Other

6 Jan

The need to belong is a powerful one, maybe as visceral and “human-y” as the need for love. Each of us needs an emotional home, that safe place where we are accepted fully, where we belong. Yet belonging is, by its very nature, about differentiation and preferences. I cannot be friends with everyone, therefore I choose some. I cannot help everyone, therefore I prioritise some. Such differentiation, “tribe creation”, seems to be the way of human beings. We create social norms, standards by which “normal” people live, and those on the outside are invariably marginalised, isolated and pushed to the periphery. Playground cliques do not, it would seem, end when we leave school.

So then, what does it mean to be “the other”? The one on the periphery? The one marginalised by depression? The one who is homeless and losing hope? The one with HIV/AIDS? The one with a disability? The one working in a brothel? The one with an unexpected teenage pregnancy? The one longing for a baby, yet unable to conceive? What would it be like to not be in the majority? What would it be like to carry the invisible stamp of differentiation?

Many of us in the West live lives that are impoverished by their homogeneity. Our friends, colleagues, community are “like us”. We have not heard the stories of “the other” and we are encumbered and enslaved by our own presumptions. The homeless became a sub-tribe of addicts, the mentally ill become “those we avoid”, street kids become criminals. We do not understand, and so we create boxes and confine individuals – each made in the image of the divine – within bland, beauty-less boxes. And so we lose out. We create an impenetrable chasm between “them” and “us”. We fail to enrich our lives because we do not acknowledge the worth of someone else’s story, the worth of someone else’s life.

And the reality is, that for many of us, “the other” makes us feel better about our lives. We are more together/successful/wise/normal than them. We have made better choices. “They” confirm our place in the centre, where we need only occasionally glance at the unfortunate souls on the periphery of society. We remain “normal”; “they” remain marginalised and misunderstood.

Could 2012 be the year where we seek out the story of “the other”, giving dignity and worth to those silenced and overlooked because they are “different”? Could it be the year we seek to understand and know – truly, not superficially – those who are not like us? “The other” is, after all, simply another one of us – a fellow human being with unique emotions, hopes and desires. A unique individual who shares our intrinsic human needs for love and belonging.

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