I’ve been following the tragedies in Syria, as well as the entire Middle East and I can’t decide what’s the right thing to do anymore. Intervention? No intervention? The Syrian civil war is so complicated with so many players, there is no way to predict how our country’s response, or lack of it, will reshuffle the deck. It’s not clear who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, what will help, what will hinder, what will bring peace and what will heighten the killing.
But this post is not about politics. This post asks: (as I’ve written about before) Should we even CARE about politics? And more specifically now, should we care about the Syrians? They live way over there. We live here. Sure it’s sad that people are grotesquely dying, but it’s their war, not ours. Right?
What? It’s not that simple, you say? Why isn’t that simple?
I’ll explain why it’s not simple for me. But first I’ll relate a recent conversation.
Last January my wife and I bought a new car with a trial offer of satellite radio and yes, we decided to keep the service. The promo discounts ended and it was time to renew the account but I didn’t want to spend $200 a year for those occasional drives when I listen to my wife’s car radio. So I called “Listener Care” and Jeff clicked on at the other end.
I explained to Jeff my goal, to lower the annual costs, and in seven sentences Jeff had me convinced he was my friend. He would build us a package of stations that would reflect our tastes, which is everything, and he would do it with a discount. Okay. That’s what they do, these “Listener Care” people – they care…or they make you think they care. So I agreed to the $165 price in my generally chatty way. I like to keep these kinds of negotiations non-confrontational. I crack jokes and keep it personal.
Jeff was laughing and said to me, “You know, I think I can save you some more money,” and then he applied his company’s offer-this-only-if-you-have-to additional reductions, lowering my annual fee down to $140.26.
Well I was very happy about that, having finished our pleasant eight-minute conversation. So as I usually do, just before hanging up, I asked Jeff where I was calling. It’s best when your care-giver lives close by, like Beverly Hills. “I’ll give you another discount if you can guess,” he said.
Okay. Game on. This means he’s probably not in the US. He said I was right about that. I said, “English isn’t your first language and you don’t live in a country where it is.”
“That’s correct too,” he said.
“You’re a university student and you’re doing this job for extra money.”
“Were you educated in the US?”
“No but I would love to visit it.”
I was stumped. He had a trace of an accent but I couldn’t recognize it. His diction was perfect. He understood American humor. He got it when I said, “I don’t want to be spammed so no, I won’t give you my email address.” There was never a hint of pressure and he reminded me of myself when I too was in college and spent a week selling discount life insurance policies over the phone.
“Okay, where am I calling?”
He said, “Cairo, Egypt.”
“Oh my God!” I said. “Are you safe?”
“So far. But it’s not a good idea to be out after dark.”
“Oh, Jeff… Your name’s not Jeff, is it?”
“No.” He laughed again. “You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.”
I figured, but I just had to tell him, “I’ve been following your country’s ordeal ever since the start of the Arab Spring. So many of us in the country watch the horrors you’re going through. And now with what’s going on in Syria, and so many people like you dying, we just don’t know what to do!”
“Thank you for caring,” he said. And then he told me his name, which I could barely articulate, and I told him I was Jewish and yet felt close to him. And I wished him well, and told him I hoped his country could work its way out of military rule and that his future had opportunities waiting for him.
He thanked me again and said, “I too am glad we had this conversation. L’Shanah Tovah.” And then we hung up.
“L’Shanah Tovah” is Hebrew for “Have a good year.” Our conversation happened on the second day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah when all the Jews say “L’Shanah Tovah” to all the other Jews. It’s an unsaid prayer for a better future, for a world in peace.
Jeff in Cairo is why I care about what’s happening to people I don’t know. But it took me years to get to the place where I can feel this way. I’m no longer struggling and have the luxury to expand my concerns beyond my own immediate needs.
Last century, two weeks out of college, I took a look at what lay before me and tried to figure out how I was going to survive the next fifty years. I had to make my world manageable, something I could control, or at least influence. The threat of Vietnam was erased with my high lottery number which got me out of the draft. That just left paying the rent, having enough to eat, some cash for gas and getting the next job. Even that wasn’t manageable. I struggled. I struggled and I searched for solutions for staying alive, as in, figuring out what’s true and what isn’t, what and who I can trust, and something about economics. I’m still trying to figure all that out.
We all have boundaries that delineate what we need to care about and what we don’t. When putting bread on the table is our main concern, a Middle East civil war is our least concern, unless we live there. If we’re average Americans, we are blessed by a huge buffer between foreign violence and our personal space, until the next terrorist attack in our fifty states. If we’re bankers, managers of major corporations, politicians, diplomats, importers-exporters, or part of a family that lives in different countries, we have a greater need to know what’s going on at the edges of our expanded borders. Where our boundary ends is determined by how much influence we have over “others” inside it, and conversely, how many of the “Others” want to influence us. Everyone needs to make their world manageable.
The Influence Mavens are the high rollers responsible for sea changes. You and me, we’re concerned about threats to our family. The big question is: what do we consider our family? Is it our home? Our neighborhood? Our city? Our county? Our state? Our country? Our ethnic community? Our religious community? Our world?
- Where does our caring and responsibility stop when it comes to our family?
- What is our family and what is not?
- At what point does Us become Them?
- And is that a boundary which stays fixed or is it flexible?
All of us face these questions everyday and make decisions about how much of the world’s business we want to take on. Most of the time we choose to limit our focus, based on insufficient information. Then we find out we really ARE affected by issues we thought were benign, like the US trade deficit and China’s cheap labor.
Honestly, none of us can know enough to really KNOW what’s going on. I still keep trying, though. And as I come to understand that there are millions of Jeff’s all over the world, I have to come to terms with my past avoidance of the atrocities in Kosovo and Rwanda, Cambodia, the Kurdish province of Iraq, Bangladesh, Burundi, Argentina, Ethiopia, Tibet, Somalia, North Korea and all the other places of historic and current genocides.
Now I care. All those people in all those places are, and were, people like Jeff and me. We’re all family.
Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.