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We’ve all seen the videos coming out of Texas. Ordinary people stepping in to help out neighbors, strangers, anyone who needs assistance. Who knows how much worse this natural disaster may have been if not for the heroics of small boat-owners, people who formed human chains, hundreds — or maybe thousands — of volunteers, who selflessly gave of themselves to help out anyone who needed it. Gallery Furniture in Houston opened its stores as shelters, allowing people to camp out in furniture displays and find a place to rest their head on one of the stores’ hundreds of mattresses. No one cared if the rescuer or the person being rescued was black, white, foreign or American. No one asked about religious affiliation. No one was concerned about anyone’s sexual orientation.

Not unique to Texas

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We’ve seen this story play out before, of course, in other natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and in the wake of man-made tragedies, as well. On September 11th, stores handed out water to those fleeing the death and destruction as the Twin Towers fell. One store even offered free shoes for office workers whose footwear was not suitable for walking or running long distances.

In times of crisis, people are ready and willing to pitch in and do whatever they can to help out their fellow human beings. My theory on the “why” of this is that things look very different when you are face to face with someone who needs help. It’s far too easy to demonize and criticize someone who looks, talks, or loves differently than we do, as long as those people are only a figment of our collective imagination, something we hear about on the news or in political discussions. When we can distill a human being down to a mere label, an “other,” someone not like me, whose misfortunes are due to bad life choices, or perhaps whose misfortunes are the result of having been born on the wrong side of a border — well, then we don’t have to care.

Little Boy’s Lemonade Stand Raises Hundreds for Harvey Victims

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These are real people

But face to face with someone who has just lost everything in a flood, who is wading waist deep in a river that used to be a street, someone who is disabled or elderly or has little children, people don’t ask questions like “What poor decisions did you make in life to end up like this?” No one said to the single mother whose needed help saving her three children, “Maybe you should have thought about the consequences before you had these babies.” No one says, “Oh, you’re black. I’m not going to help you” or “Oh, you’re black. I don’t want your help.”

Labels don’t matter

Put simply, none of it matters when we are inspired by a natural or man-made disaster that asks no questions before targeting its victims.

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So, why, I wonder, does it matter on an ordinary, routine day? And why are we so quick to forget our eagerness to help, our selflessness in a time of need, our unconditional acceptance that everyone is deserving of a chance?

Let’s not forget the goodness that Harvey inspired. And let’s not wait until the next Harvey comes knocking to treat every human being as if they matter, regardless of their color, where they were born, how they worship, or whom they love.

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