We didn’t know their names. We hadn’t seen their faces. We really didn’t know much of anything about them, except that there were twelve soccer players altogether, accompanied by their coach. They had crawled up into the inner reaches of a cave, exploring with the excitement and energy that 12-year old boys seem to have, when outside rains created rising waters inside the cave, submerging the very passages that the boys had used hours before. They became trapped.
We all know the story by now, as it became a topic of international attention. News sources from around the world featured daily updates about the fate of the boys; indeed, nine days elapsed before rescuers even discovered the boys still alive, but each and every day we received updates about rescuers’ progress. It was no less than a miracle that the team survived so long underground. And then we waited and watched as rescue teams- made up of Thai, U.S. and other international support- completed the meticulous planning and execution of the rescue itself. In the end, there was a universal sigh of relief from all corners of the globe that these young lives had been saved. Maybe the world needed a unified success in something, anything, at this time of extreme nationalism and name-calling.
The international interest and support puzzles me. I readily understand the empathy and emotional attachment that we feel: imagining one’s own children in such dire circumstances is a nightmare that most parents have, and to which even non-parents can relate. The anguish and outrage expressed in the U.S. on behalf of children separated from their parents at the border with Mexico demonstrated our ability to activate on behalf of kids. But the capture of the entire international conscience over the fate of 12 boys astounds me. There have been and continue to be almost daily events which threaten the lives of children, in many cases far more than a dozen young lives, and for which we show almost casual interest at best. Sometimes the young lives are lost, and the world takes little note. Middle East violence has destroyed young lives as a matter of policy. Syrian war has made no distinctions between use of nerve gas on adults or children. In Nicaragua, young people are being killed or “disappeared” each day during the current political turmoil, and the world barely knows of it. What made the Thai soccer team so different for us?
Was it the uniforms? Was there something about the context of a boys’ athletic team? Perhaps the difference was due to the nature of the threat: not imposed by politics or other man-made conventions, but rather from Nature herself. Maybe it’s easier to root for people confronting the forces of natural calamity than to be forced to choose sides in a conflict. Someone suggested to me that we have a limited capacity for empathy in crises, and that we are more capable of emotion for smaller numbers of victims: we can handle our fears and grief for 12, but it’s much more difficult for, say, 1,000. For whatever the reason, we seem to pick and choose the victims who we will care about. It baffles me. And I feel badly for those other victims who wait for the caress of human accompaniment, prayers and support, even when it never comes.
My reflections over this brought to mind a scene from the movie, “Schindler’s List,” where Schindler is in despair over Jews he could not ultimately help away from Nazi danger, despite his urgent desire to save them:
“I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…. If I’d made more money. I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just….
“I didn’t do enough! This car. Someone would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t. And I… didn’t.”
Sometimes conscience is too slow, or too selective, and becomes numbed by the happy drama of boys being boys….