This week the world news was dominated by the Nepal earthquake, with the thousands of victims and the millions of people affected, a tragedy of incredible magnitude. This comes at the back of the ongoing anguish of the immigrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean trying to escape horrible conditions of life in war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. For most people, these tragic events are happening in places that appear distant both geographically and culturally, as most of us do not live near Lampedusa or Mount Everest. I think that for a lot of people this perceived distance either brings a sense of unjustifiable indifference or a slightly more understandable powerlessness, possibly with the exception of donating money to organisations that take action to alleviate or help with the pain where it happens. By all means, do that if you can. I did. You really can’t hop on a search and rescue boat and go save the immigrants in the Mediterranean. Nepal, the same.
However, while all of this is happening, there are endless situations, life stories much nearer to all of us that often fall through the cracks of a life of the powerlessness that I mentioned above. A life combined with a daily diet saturated with social and other media consumption, from which little energy escapes. The result is a social environment where everybody only cares about their own physical, social and financial ‘self’ as if it exists separate from the people, life and energy around them. We have neighbours who are elderly, alone, have mobility problems, have health issues that are often physically and socially marginalising, and we don’t see them. This, in my view, is a tragedy of equal significance. It may not become visible in the format of a news program that counts dead bodies to terrorise, confuse and subordinate an increasingly powerless electorate, but it is there. Invisible, as we look elsewhere. After all, everything is invisible if you look elsewhere. Immigrants are invisible when they are drowning but not invisible when they survive and wander in the towns of the northern Mediterranean. This is the story of immigrants in most countries, I suspect, since the first ever war or natural disaster. They then become a convenient villain, a hated enemy or a humanitarian failure of our developed society, depending on your interests and level of understanding. But the elderly man who lives alone for years on the ground floor flat is always invisible. The unemployed single mum of the child in the wheelchair is always invisible. Unless you look. Unless you talk to them, even if it is to smile and say hello to them. Then they become visible. They may even smile back. The millions of these people, facing their own struggles, may smile back. You can even ask them if you can help them with something, maybe help them carry their shopping, which may be really heavy for them as they are, for example, 87 years old and really really weak. What is it to you? 5 minutes less on facebook? 5 fewer minutes wasted on Instagram? 5 minutes of bad TV less? The worldwide suffering will not end. But one personal tragedy, for one little moment, or maybe for more, will be slightly more sufferable. And this is the world you will live in, which you will have improved, and there will be a little bit more smiling around you. Go on, be selfish. Smile.
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