Do we switch the channel when we see children sick and dying in another country? Dying of diseases we don’t encounter in our cozy little niche in the world.

     Sipping a hot latte, you see a man huddled beside a dog in a doorway. Do you reason, “it’s probably his own fault he’s homeless?  Why does he have a dog anyway? Why doesn’t he get a job? Am I my brother’s keeper?” Do you hurry past him, or do you return to the coffee shop and buy another cup of coffee for the man and a cup of water for his dog?  Will you refrain from reasoning that “God helps those who help themselves?” A phrase often mistaken as scriptural. Thomas Merton, a monk who is regarded as one of the greatest mystics of the 20th century, stated “it is easy to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes, plenty of food, medical care and a roof over your head with no worry about the rent. But, if you want them to believe you, try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!” 

    Do we switch the channel when we see children sick and dying in another country? Dying of diseases we don’t encounter in our cozy little niche in the world. The concept of “goodwill ambassadors” was introduced by Unicef years ago with numerous celebrities stepping up to focus on interventions for child survival. “We Are the World” was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and recorded by the Supergroup USA for African famine relief.  The UN created an elite group of celebrities  called “Messengers” of Peace. Celebities like George Clooney and Michael Douglas promote U.N. goals. Others such as Sean Penn, Irish rock star Bono, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have used celebrity diplomacy to shine spotlights on a network of global causes from Haiti to Congo refugee camps. These are only a few of the many that deliver a ray of hope for equality and justice to the poor. The American Red Cross has a 50-member Celebrity Cabinet to speak on their behalf.  Billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have been liberal with philanthropic causes. Celebrities can reach into our living rooms unless, of course, one opts to switch channels. It began in the 1960’s and the links between Hollywood and international philanthropy is still going strong. These people apparently feel they are their “Brother's Keeper.” 

     Locally, Arkansans are known to step up to the plate. Volunteers descended on Vilonia and Mayflower in the days following the devastating tornado. Victims  know they are not alone. They feel the comforting arms of brotherhood around them. 

    The far right is “disposed to maintain the status quo.” Their system justification theory reflects that of Cain. As in Genesis, Cain justifys his crime in the belief that he is not his “Brother's Keeper.” That he has no obligation to anyone other than himself. Not facing up to what their demands make on other peoples lifes, republicans unleash rampage after rampage to stomp on their “Brothers.” While we may not be literal or figurative keepers of others,  responsibilities have to be recognized and owned for our fellow man. We are all connected. Our most important responsibility is to expose others to the truth. Pope John Paul II insisted that “freedom must be joined to truth, and truth to love.” While we can’t force one to believe in any certain way, we can sound the trumpet.  John C. Maxwell said, “self-centered leaders manipulate when they move people for personal benefit. Mature leaders motivate by moving people for mutual benefit.” Which type of leaders do we have? 

     The Paul Ryan budget would decimate anti-poverty programs, replace Medicare and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Forgetting his own simple roots of being a recipient of government benefits, he reflects a belief that the government isn’t responsible for anything good. (Nothing like “biting the hand that fed you.”) Now, as a GOP puppetman, he’s willing to take from the poor while protecting billionaire financiers and corporations. Perhaps for personal gain? He and his wife own stakes in four of her family companies that lease land in Texas and Oklahoma to the very energy companies that benefit in subsidies and tax breaks in Ryan’s budget plan. How sweet is that? I will cheer for anyone that obtains honest success in their lifetime, but not when their prosperity causes austerity for others.   Have conservatives persuaded themselves that they are not their “Brother’s Keeper?”  It’s a new era where the power of unlimited political money is in charge and the republican mantra for the poor is “fend for yourself.”  As Marlon Brando said, “If we are not our Brother’s Keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.”     And, that’s my opinion . . . . .  


(Sharen Jergenson of Heber Springs writes her “And that’s my opinion column... “ for The Sun-Times monthly)