Tsunami Relief

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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin has been thinking about the global outpouring of support for the victims of the Tsunami disaster.

(KUNIN) It is impossible for human beings to feel the pain caused by the death of more than 150,000 people. Try as we may, the number is too large. We can comprehend the pain of a mother, whose child was pulled from her grasp by the power of the tsunami, and left her empty handed, plagued with guilt because she did not have the strength to hold on. We can feel with the father whose son was saved by being swept up to the height of a tree branch, but who lost all the members of his family, including his wife and other children.

Despite the enormity of the loss, which puts it beyond human comprehension, people all over the world have offered help with extraordinary generosity. Every country, large or small, rich or poor, has raised money, sent food, manpower and building materials to rebuild villages and towns that are devoid of structure or signs of life. For the first time, there is open competition over which country has given the most. No one wants to be singled out as stingy or uncaring. When the United States first offered a paltry 15 million, we retraced our steps and came up with amounts that more closely befit our size and wealth.

Something in this story of the tsunami resonated with people around the world. Perhaps it was the innocence of the people whose lives were destroyed. They did nothing to cause this; they were simply in the way of a wave that did not distinguish between good and evil. There is a recognition that both man and nature have uncontrollable powers of destruction, that our lives may be brief and that there, but for the grace of God, go we.

The capacity to put oneself in someone else’s shoes is the essence of empathy, the source of giving. With the help of a global communication network, the world felt for the victims as, one by one, their stories were told, and repeated again and again.

Global giving is the least expected consequence of globalization. In other arenas, globalization has depersonalized our lives, making us feel helpless, out of control. With the tragedy of the Tsunami, the technology of globalization with its photos, stories and television footage has spread this tragedy into almost every home, making us feel engaged and empowered to reach out. It has humanized the raw numbers, turning them into the faces and bodies of men, women and children.

This is what, gives us the capacity to care for them, to see them as individuals who are part of a global community, a community to which we, too, belong.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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