House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously observed that “all politics is local.” He was right about more than politics.
Wednesday, as the national media continued reporting on Hurricane Dorian, the lead story in the local Dallas news was the signing of Ezekiel Elliott by the Cowboys. That same day, the lead headline in the Los Angeles Times focused on the dive boat tragedy off the Southern California coast. Today’s Midland Reporter-Telegram continues to report on the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting in their community.
I suspect citizens in Great Britain are following the latest on Brexit more closely than most of us in America. The pope’s travels in Africa are being reported more thoroughly there than here. Wildfires in Bolivia are receiving little attention in the US.
Dorian has been in the news for more than a week now. Unfortunately, many of us are suffering from compassion fatigue after watching the hurricane march slowly across the ocean.
But if you live in North Carolina or have family there, the storm is an existential threat to you. Dorian is brushing their coast this morning, lashing the area with rain, strong winds, and storm surges. The hurricane is causing floods in parts of the Carolinas and has left more than 343,000 people without power in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
If my loved ones were among the thousands still missing in the Bahamas, Dorian’s destruction would be agonizing for me. More than 1,500 Americans are still “unaccounted for” in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. For their families, the war continues.
Limiting our horizon to our backyard
News organizations know the importance of reporting what we want to read and hear. They focus on local stories because local stories impact their readers most directly.
This localization of compassion is understandable. Finite human souls cannot carry the grief and suffering of the entire world for even a moment, much less a lifetime.
However, our innate focus on ourselves carries two risks.
One: By concentrating on what’s happening to us today, we can miss what will happen to us tomorrow.
There were no hurricanes battering the southeastern US when Dorian was devastating the Bahamas. But knowing what the storm had done prepared the residents of Florida and the Carolinas for what the storm could do.
When we limit our horizon to our own backyard, we miss much of what the world knows but we don’t. G. K. Chesterton observed: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
Two: By limiting our compassion to those we know, we miss the opportunity to serve those we do not.
Grief and suffering are intensely lonely experiences. While we cannot truly say to others, “I know how you feel,” we can say to them, “I am sorry for how you feel.” And we can demonstrate our compassion in action.
“When making progress, think small.”
Author James Clear suggests: “When making plans, think big. When making progress, think small.” The same is true for compassion: see the pain of humanity, then look for a hurting person God intends you to help today.
They may not be the people you notice. Chesterton warned us, “The things we see every day are the things we never see at all.”
Or they may not be the people you would choose to serve.
Consider the man “lame from birth” who was “laid daily” at the Beautiful Gate of the Jerusalem temple (Acts 3:2), presumably for some forty years (4:22). In all those years and all the times Peter came to the temple, the two apparently never met. Since people in their day erroneously thought that inherited disabilities indicated divine judgment (cf. John 9:2), perhaps Peter had avoided touching or even speaking to this man.
But then Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), and his life was never the same. The post-Pentecost Peter then “directed his gaze” at the lame man (Acts 3:4), and the lame man’s life was never the same.
Will the hurting people you meet say you have been “filled with the Holy Spirit” today?