We have all heard the story of the starfish. A small boy is walking along a beach and he notices an old man ahead of him, bending down and picking up starfish stranded on the beach from the high tide. The beach was covered with starfish. When the boy caught up with the old man he asked, “What are you doing?” “Throwing the starfish back into the sea so the noon day sun does not kill them,” the old man replied. “But there are so many of them, and you are only one person, what difference can it make,” the boy observed. Bending down and picking up another small starfish and taking it over to the water, the old man replied, “It makes a difference to this one!”
Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed. Many times I feel powerless. In the face of inequality and injustice I can feel inept and voiceless, trapped in a bubble that whispers, “this is just the way things are!” What makes my struggle even harder is that I am part of the haves, I am not a have not. I am one of the privileged ones. I live in comfort with one of my few struggles the nutgrass in my garden or wondering way the small grasshoppers love chewing away at my gerberas!
Recently two friends of mine accompanied me to watch the movie, ‘One Life’! One Life tells the story of Sir Nicholas Winton who just prior to the Second World War worked with others to save 669 small children from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. Winton fought British bureaucracy, a lack of funds and finding families to take the children in and provide a home, care and love. But he succeeded. In a powerful scene from the movie Winton’s mother says, “You can’t do everything, there are so many children!” But driven by determination, ordinary courage, the support of a small group of friends and his profound belief in the value of every human life, Winton battles and finds visas, funds and families and eight trains carrying vulnerable children make the journey to freedom. Winton did something!
It was Edmund Burke who once said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing”. It was probably Alexander Hamilton who said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!”
One of the things that stops me from doing something is fear of what others will think of me. The moment you ‘stand for something’ labels and politics come into play. Winton was labelled a “Jew lover” and one of the things he had to fight strongly against was a political belief that what Hitler was doing “had nothing to do with us”.
We are called to courageous love beyond labels. We are called to that one starfish regardless of colour or creed. Children are children: whether they be Ukrainian, Palestinian, Russian, Aboriginal or Jewish. The poor and elderly, the disabled and the disenfranchised are same whether they be Ukrainian, Palestinian, Russian, Aboriginal or Jewish. Mothers are mothers, fathers are fathers. We are called to courageously call out evil in the form of greed, violence, rejection, oppression and xenophobia in whatever form they take and perpetrated by any sad, unfree perpetrator and their blinkered ideology.
The danger, of course, is that we continually compromise truth by rationalising and politicising. Our politicians know only too well that the politics of division and fear, labels and blame, is cheap and easy, expedient and vote winning. It is much easier to build opposing factions, arm them with mud and encourage mud slinging than to engage in relationship and community and nation building. Rarely does a true statesman stand up and see and name and courageously act beyond such fear and division.
So, we courageously name injustice. It was evil of Russia to invade the Ukraine and tens of thousands have lost their lives and millions their quality of life because of the ego of one man and those who working from vested interests support him. It was evil of Hamas to attack innocent civilians in Israel. It was and is evil of Israel to oppress the Palestinian people for generation after generation and now use the excuse of the Hamas attack to extend and deepen that oppression.
“An eye for an eye only leaves the world blind!” The nature of the Israeli response in addition to creating untold misery for innocent Palestinian people has also planted and fertilized the seeds for the next generation of radical ‘terrorists’.
Immediately as I write these things I will be hooking our politics. Stop! See beyond the politics to the people, to the faces, to the stories, to truth. One of the powerful things in the movie, ‘One Life’ is that the producers continually use the images and photos of the 669 children whom Winton and his friends saved. They haunt the screen. They give life to his courage. These faces ask questions that go beyond politics and short term political gain to truth, nobility, dignity and courage.
It was Mother Teresa of Kolkata who famously said, “If I looked at a crowd I would never get started. I believe in a person to person approach!”
In 2024 let’s courageously step out. Let’s name evil for what it is. Let’s take the back and forth argument beyond politics to the people, the stories, the faces and the pain that is way beyond any label or religion or ethnicity.
And, let’s do our simple little bit – one starfish at a time to create a better world for our children and our children’s children. One smile, one affirmation, one challenge, one question, one sitting beside, one walking with, one hug, one eye meeting eye, one life – one at a time!