Like most everyone, I’ve sought ways to come to grips with the catastrophe, watching the images of the tragedy rush past on the TV, reading or listening to the better accounts (like this one:http://www.npr.org/rundowns/segment.php?wfId=4274889), and yet becoming on a fundamental level somewhat numbed by the whole thing.
I was extremely moved at first, and still feel real, honest compassion over the loss of life. Still, there are amorphous elements here in the exhaustive, sometimes exhausting coverage, and in the aid and relief rush, even competition, that gnaw at me, making me uneasy.
What exactly is going on here? Why such eagerness? Compassion is absolute good, to be sure, so why is it so selective, so fickle? I’ve thought, unsurprisingly, about Africa, and the paltry response in places like Sudan, where a genocide is said to be taking place, and of the generalized indifference over the Congo, where four million people have died in the last five or six years as a result of the worst war we’ve seen since WWII. How many people even know? Fewer still care.
This all came together for me this morning, listening distractedly to the BBC. A woman named Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development drew this contrast, which I paraphrase: “The equivalent of a tsunami takes place in Africa from the deaths to malaria every 11 days. There is the tsunami’s equivalent in AIDS deaths in Africa every 15 days.”
In other words, let’s interrupt this blithe feelgood reverie about our own goodness, and challenge ourselves to be less selective in our generosity. There is so much more to be done.

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