When hearts go out

"My heart goes out to them, but what can I dom about it?" Who has not heard or felt this kind of response to the victims of calamities like those that almost seem to be feeding on each other right now? Yet there are things that each of us can do when learning that Japan has its worst postwar hotel fire, America has one with twice as many fatalities, and Italy suffers an earthquake leaving thousands killed, injured, or homeless.

Not to be minimized is that first indispensable step of "my heart goes out to them." It is the opposite of the hopeless shrug of the world-weary of the thank-goodness-it-wasn't-me sigh of the gambler hardly looking up from his slot machine in a Las Vegas struck by blazing tragedy.

The sum of individual caring hearts is public awareness and concern. And -- as reported in a current Monitor series, "Refugee crisis" -- these are seen by the experts to be among the most important elements for successful assistance to the world's victims as represented by today's millions of refugees. It may not be easy to look at the stark evidence of needs to be met among the children and whole families of the uprooted. But the seriousness of their plight must be recognized in order to see through it to the means of helping them to help themselves out of it. Friday's article will describe specific ways in which individuals can join in an effort that already has brought some encouraging results.

But responding to the refugees, like responding to the tragic events of the past few days, means more than trying to focus on human need however remote it may seem. It means sharpening one's alertness to the needs and possibilities close to home.

Those on the scene will have to explore such questions as whether the Japanese hotel fire would have been less severe with more wate available, whether the Las Vegas hotel fire would have been better contained if fire-control equipment not required by law had been added. Similarly, the earthquake will bring practical questions for Italy about locating homes and villages. But these are reminders to all of us to see whether we are being prudent about whatever part of the environment we affect -- not only in regard to fires and earthquakes but anything that requires wise forethought.

By the same token, we may not be on the spot to comfort the injured or the bereaved. But let us express to those around us the compassion we may see they need if we look beyond the news.

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