When a heavily populated part of Gujarat state in western India was devastated by a 7.9 quake, Pakistan, India's near neighbor - and longtime, bitter foe - sent in an Air Force plane filled with tents and blankets. Temperatures hit about 41 degrees at night in that area this time of year, so blankets were essential for the people forced out of their homes by the devastation. Despite the two countries' history of conflict, the director of Pakistan's emergency relief agency, Ilyas Khan, announced: "I have come on a humanitarian mission.... People are suffering."
Remarkable as this is, such humanitarian acts in the face of widespread catastrophe are rather common. There's something about tragedy that brings out the best in people, enabling them to transcend rigid rivalries and animosities. What is it?
I think I'm finding out.
Could it be the same force that drove a Samaritan in ancient Palestine to interrupt his journey to help out a Jew who had been mugged and thrown into a ditch? The reference is from a story told by Jesus and recorded in the Chris-tian Gospel of Luke (see 10:29-37). The story has entered general culture and is known as the parable of The Good Samaritan.
One of the reasons the word "Good" is included in the title is that the Samaritans and the Jews despised each other. The image of a Samaritan manifesting any love for a Jew was shocking to the people then, accentuating Jesus' point about what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself.
Would the Samaritan have exhibited such love if the Jew had simply broken a sandal strap, or had some other less severe problem? Maybe, but Jesus' point wouldn't have been as significant.
That the Samaritan's acts of kindness came in response to a great calamity may illustrate that traditional animosities are entirely self-imposed. Animosity isn't hard-wired into people. As the Oscar Hammerstein song puts it: "You've got to be taught to hate and fear.... You've got to be carefully taught" (from the musical "South Pacific").
But even so, when catastrophe strikes nearby, it tends to unite people in one intense mental event. And at that moment, at the point of great vulnerability, even without thinking about it, each side understands how alike they really are. These moments of shared alikeness show that you can also be UNtaught, if not always so carefully.
The objective, of course, is getting to this profound state of understanding without having the earth literally shake you into it. The teaching of animosity is really a form of mental anesthesia, numbing people into forgetting their common parentage in an infinitely loving creator, and thus enabling them to act as though they come from different, warring planets.
So UNteaching is really the act of re-sensitizing the heart to some original state of awareness. The kind that children naturally have, before they're "six or seven or eight," as Mr. Hammerstein's song goes. Those who have gained deep wisdom over time know that the wisdom of a child is primal. Is it because children are nearer to that state of dependence and trust in an all-loving Parent? Nearer to the awareness that humanity shares a spiritual siblinghood? I think so. I think we are naturally attuned and attracted to goodness that is divine, and that each of us can see the divine in each other - even if we have to work hard at it.
As I have had to.
That good Pakistani, a parable in a planeload of needed blankets, set off a tremor in me, bringing down an old battlement. Today, reading that story, I feel more ready to reconcile with a particular person who has probably hated me for a long time. I wouldn't know for sure, because we haven't spoken in many years. I know at one time he thought I had done him a great wrong.
I don't need to have him suffer great pain for me to relate to our original spiritual kinship. I know that if one of us stops playing the part of "enemy," there really can't be a war. And I don't need him to go first. Like the Samaritan/Pakistani, I have nothing to gain from any act of love beyond the reward that love always gives to the loving.
The ideas in this article are explored more fully in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor