No one wants to become numb to the needs of other people. It's natural to feel something when we hear about human distress, and to care what happens to those involved. The fact is, though, when reports of tragedy incessantly beat upon our ears - when shots and sirens sound through our city's nights, and dramatic media coverage fills the airwaves - it's easy to slip into a defensive mental apathy.
In an article in this newspaper on October 16, Daniel R. Milnor described his reaction to the sounds of gunshots, racing cars, and a police helicopter outside his Los Angeles bedroom window: "The night fell quiet for a moment, and curiously, my only thought was whether or not I could fall back asleep. Strangely enough, I felt numb as I lay there." The next day, he discovered his neighbors had slept obliviously through it all. He asked, "What am I missing because I've learned to be immune?"
A reader, Dana Starr, responded with a letter to the editor: "The shots, helicopters, flashing lights, and roaring engines are common enough in the urban landscape to prompt one of our greatest tools ... the ability to adapt.... It's a blessing and a curse.... it would be refreshing to be given some answers or at least possibilities to be tried so that more nights don't develop into a repetition of Milnor's" (October 19).
My questions are: When reports of tragedy seem almost commonplace, why do we so easily turn a deaf ear? and, How can we keep our sensitivity in a state of alertness and caring, and at the same time manage our own lives effectively?
I've been thinking about some answers that have been useful in my life, and some possibilities for improving on them. When we become aware of chaos and hurt erupting in other people's lives, we often feel helpless. So we direct our attention toward meeting our own needs - like sleep or peace of mind. We focus on carrying on with our daily responsibilities.
What I've often found, though, is that looking toward a solution to my own problems - my need for peace, for example - turns me to God. And as I pray to understand God as my loving creator and provider, it becomes clear to me that no one is ever helpless. God is the all-powerful, divine Love present to guide, comfort, and heal every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth. Thinking about this, I feel a peace-giving confidence that my own needs will be met, as well as an enlivened faith that God is caring for everyone. I also feel certain that my prayers in any given instance are a positive help to other people.
These ideas have become familiar to me through the life and teachings of Jesus. His self-sacrificing love inspires me to want to put the interests of other people ahead of my own more of the time. The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote, "It was our Master' self-immolation, his life-giving love, healing both mind and body, that raised the deadened conscience, paralyzed by inactive faith, to a quickened sense of mortal's necessities, - and God's power and purpose to supply them" ("Pulpit and Press," pg. 10).
To keep my own faith enlivened, I find it necessary to keep close to the "life-giving love" of Christ. I can tell you of many times when I've been moved by an awareness of human strife to pray actively to realize God's love and care for those involved - and have felt God's comfort in answer to this prayer. I feel I've done something helpful, and I get a good night's sleep.
But I can see plenty of opportunity for my faith to become much more active: to pray daily not to allow anything to desensitize me to the needs of humanity; to faithfully realize that the power of God, of good, is supreme; and to love enough to acknowledge His all-power whenever any human need comes to my attention. If more of us feel the love of God through prayer, think what good will come.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society