Acts of Loving Kindness & Profound Cruelty

As opposing meteorological conditions when colder and hotter weather fronts collide to incite severe and dangerous storms at point of impact, loud claps of thunder and high voltage lightning bolts split my heart recently after following current world events: one displaying acts of loving kindness, the other exposing profound cruelty.

As literally hundreds of thousands of refugees attempt to flee the carnage and destruction over the course of the wars and poverty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, and the past four long and horrific years during the Syrian Civil War under the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime, a number of European nations, most notably Germany, Austria, and increasingly France and Britain, have stepped up to welcome and help settle some of the refugees wishing to live and establish better futures for themselves and their kin. Unfortunately, there are simply too many refugees for these countries to absorb on their own. On route, over 2800 people have perished as estimated by The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR.

As refugees arrived in Hungary, they were met with heavy resistance from that country's right-wing government, which attempted to stop them from proceeding further by erecting a barbed wire fence along its more than 160-kilometer (100-mile) border with Serbia. Volunteers from Germany, Austria, and Slovakia, by way of social media, organized a 200-vehical convoy to shuttle people from Hungary to their new homes. In addition, train service resumed to transport desperate individuals and entire families. As thousands finally reached the platform at Vienna's train station, scores of welcoming Austrians brought food and water, and they cheered their newest neighbors. Due to the enormity of the crisis, however, more help is needed from other countries.

On the other side of the genuine sense of compassion and empathy generated by individuals and entire countries in the midst of suffering, humans are also capable of extreme and profound forms of cruelty and ruthlessness that wrenches the imagination. As someone personally affected by the German Holocaust, and as a life-long student of conditions giving rise to human genocides, I believed I had learned pretty much the full spectrum of inhumanities our species has wrought upon itself, until I discovered the tragedies occurring in the African country of Tanzania.

Often under the cover of darkness, groups of men carrying torches and knives enter the homes of children with the condition of albinism -- in which they contain little or no pigment in their skin or eyes -- and "poach" them by cutting off hands or entire limbs to sell for thousands of dollars on underground markets. These body parts are then used in the making of potions thought to give the user increased wealth and good luck. In some traditional communities in Tanzania and other countries on the African continent, people with albinism are said to have magical properties. Plunderers value their limbs more than their lives.

Some of more fortunate children have come to the United States to receive prosthetics free of charge, thanks to the support of the Global Medical Relief Fund, a charitable foundation established by Elissa Montanti in 1997. Back in Tanzania as they grow, they can return to the U.S. for new prosthetic devises.

I believe two of the litmus tests by which we can judge any society are to investigate both the ways in which societies treat their children, and the ways in which they treat animals. In some countries around the world, we have clear evidence of the poaching of animals for their body parts, such as tusks and as trophies. We also have clear evidence of the poaching of human body parts, human trafficking, and denial of education, health care, and the basics to sustain life. Elsewhere, though the signs may not appear as obvious, even within - possibly especially within - some of the more highly "developed" nations, individuals and governmental policies also perpetrate cruel and abusive acts, though often in more subtle fashions.

We must, therefore, offer correctives for the actions across the globe as well as within our own backyards.