Friday, 10 October 2008

For whom the bell tolls ? Global economic recession will kill more children.

A victim of poverty. One of at least 20,000 children dying a day of malnutrition.

Someone passes wind in the US, and the rest of the world is feeling the economic blast from of the summits of Pamir mountains to the shores of the Maldive Islands.

Reliable statistics are now predicting that the 20,000 to 30,000 children dying a day from malnutrition and disease will increase rapidly as the global recession bites.

An island off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia. Photo: Bob McKerrow

After another day of gut-wrenching drops on world markets, finance chiefs of the world's major economies have pledged to take decisive action and work together to stem the escalating financial crisis.Reeling from the loss of trillions of dollars of wealth, investors worldwide had pinned their hopes on decisive action from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations.

The summits of the Pamir mountains. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Robb wrote some time ago, "I battle with myself, and have fought many battles within myself, yet I return here to be reminded of my relative comforts in life from part of your writings, and entertained and enriched by others."

I too battle with tensions, constraints and problems facing the world which have been enhanced by the worsening global economic crisis.

I am sitting in the relative comfort of my Hotel room in Kuala Lumpur reflecting on the last few weeks of hectic travelling. Outside my room the Twin Towers and other tall building drape the skyline. There were other Twin Towers that are no more.

The view from my window in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Bob McKerrow

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is part of the main ... Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne

The financial crisis is hurting so many, especially the most vulnerable people with rising fuel and food prices, pressure on escalating accomodation rentals. Many will move from rented appartmets to shacks, shacks to cardboard and bamboo huts, or in Bangladesh and India, the millions of pavement dwellers will grow.

John Donne, the 17th century English poet who wrote no man is an island entire of itself was gravely ill at the time. It is a theme borrowed by John Steinbeck. I believe he was saying that we are all equal as human beings. The closer you get to dying the closer you get to living.

I have seen a lot of islands and people lately in my travels and in my work and I have come to realise that against the shallow world of rationalism, the person is ever an affirmation of mystery.

We have no way to know in advance the contributions of a person’s potential. No one is useless! Just as there is a mystery about what the future holds, there is a mystery about what the future contributions of any one person may be.

Children living life on the edge of starvation.

I recently came across a book called Night, which restored my faith in humanity.

Elie Wiesel's powerful story tells of pain and suffering experienced by a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust. The story befits John Donne's famous quote, "No man is an island . . . Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," in that the sharing of a common culture and the subsequent feeling of belonging helped the prisoners to survive the horror of the concentration camps - the Holocaust.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well
as if a promontory were... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." by John Donne applies to the book. This sense that everyone is a part of the whole is reflected in Night, in the following ways: the sense of belonging together, their common religious beliefs, and unity among the Jewish people. All of these show how no man is in fact an island, and that each person, no matter who he/she is, is important.

Clearly the notion that "no man is an island," is supported by the fact that Elie and the other characters in the novel, such as Mr. Wiesel and Stein of Antwerp, survive by having a sense of belonging. In New Zealand, the Maori have "Turangawaiwai", a place to belong, a place to stand tall. That sense of being Jewish with others who share a common culture is a strong binding feeling. It was this feeling of strength and belonging that helped Elie and the other prisoners survive the terrifying horror of the camps; as Elie says, "Our fear and anguish were at an end. We were living among Jews, among brothers...". No man is an island was evident even to the point of risking ones life for another. This is shown when the French girl goes out of her way to give Elie some bread after being beaten; "Saying those few words to you was risky, but I knew you wouldn't give me away..."(Wiesel 51). This shows the sense of belonging, because she had forged papers that proved that she was Aryan, though she was really Jewish, and if the authorities were to find out that she was really Jewish, she would have been killed. This is an example of the belonging between people during the Holocaust, because there was trust between them even though they didn't know each other.
Without a doubt, their religious beliefs also played an important part in every man being a piece of the whole..".every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...." This quote is shown throughout the book when the prisoners come together to pray, "The service ended with the Kaddish. Everyone recited the Kaddish over his parents, over his children, over his brothers, and over himself."(Wiesel 65). The previous passage also reflects "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." This is when they pray for all the losses of lives and themselves. Even though they don't know all the people who died, the fact that people of their own faith were killed, diminishes them. There are times throughout the book when the elders tell the prisoners to never lose faith, thus giving them hope to survive. This shows how the very religious beliefs of the Holocaust victims in Night applies to the quote by John Donne.
Certainly, the sense of being unified gave them strength, for there is more strength in numbers. This feeling of unity even though the atrocities were so hard, was a strengthening feeling that helped them survive the camps. An example of this unity is when the prisoners were running through the snow during a forced march. They had already covered forty two miles, the officer finally gave the order to rest. After having run as one body, Elie stated "We sank down as one man in the snow" (Wiesel 82), although literally they were thousands of people, Elie says that they sat down as one man. This re-states the idea that."..every man is a piece of the continent...."
Finally showing that unity contributes to the idea that no man is an island to oneself, but a part of something bigger than themselves
In conclusion, the book Night is a powerful story that tells of pain and suffering, and in the midst of all this, the prisoners find each other as support through this atrocity. People are connected to something bigger than themselves as John Donne states: "every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." and this becomes clear throughout the novel in the sense of belonging, religious beliefs and the sense of being unified. Elie's hope in writing this book was to enlighten and unite mankind in a hope that this would never happen again.

It's a crying shame the owners of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had no sense of history beyond their own complacency and greed.

Nias island. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I look out the window at the Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and think of Elie's sense of unity and compassion that the world needs at this point in history. Like the jetty on Nias island, Indonesia, above, most of us are wondering where it will lead too. Some of us will lose value on our houses, drop a few thousand dollars on investments, but try to think of ways of helping those who will be living on the pavements because of greed and mismanagement on Wall Street. The bell is tolling for you to do something now, for none of us are islands unto ourselves.


pohanginapete said...

I too am greatly alarmed at the potential this "crisis" might cause. I put "crisis" in sneer quotes because, although I don't deny its seriousness, it seems to be considered a crisis because it's most apparent in affluent countries, the well-to-do inhabitants of which might not be able simply to tut-tut and carry on gorging while doing nothing about true crises — namely, those killing millions of human beings throughout the world. (I suppose my lack of respect for money-as-god will have me written off as a communist).

Whew... that's off my chest now. But I do see alarming signs that the "crisis" will be used to justify all manner of inaction on far more important problems. For example, just this morning I heard a New Zealand businessman/ pseudopundit arguing we should relax our attempts to reduce our carbon emissions. Short term profit, I'm afraid, seems to carry more weight than long term wellbeing and an equitable, compassionate distribution of wealth (in the broad sense of that abused word).

Thanks for saying what's most important, Bob.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
You once again have put this into a succinct context, and what we, in the white western world, must start grasping. There are so many battles to be fought, where to start?
Your place here Bob is an important one, at least for me, to learn what is really happening beyond our safe worlds, or even within them. I find it difficult to engage many people in real conversations about the world, because so many just do not want to know, or as you write, rationalize it all away. I am a neophyte to all this Bob, but kia ora to you, and your place here for helping me find a voice.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Pete

I am glad you got that off your chest Pete. I had a similar feeling yesterday morning when i posted the article to use your words, "for it is namely, those killing millions of human beings throughout the world." The rich and the middle classes are scambling to protect their investments, while those that have nothing, will be pushed beyond the margins of survival. I am currently at a meeting of Red Cross people from virtually every country in Asia, and hearing about the growing poverty is depressing. But midst the gloom, the national Red Cross societies from Mongolia to East Timor, are tackling these issues and I feel we are having a positive effect and through our global Community Based Risk Reduction programmes, we are empowering the most vulnerable communities to take charge of their own development through appropriate injections of resources. Have a look at our website sometime: There is light at the end of the tunnel if we unite and tackle poverty through a more equitable distribution of resources. In addition, the most vulnerable who contribute the least to global warming, can be helped by the big polluters contributing to the adaptation funds which will give those of us working at community level, the opportunity to use this money for poverty reduction programmes.

Have a good week pete.


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia ora Robb

Robb, here are so many battles to be fought, where to start? I have discussed this before with you and Tara and the work you are doing to reduce the degradion of our environment in New Zealand, is a very worthwhile battleground. I was jotting a few words to Pete a short time ago and any work or advocacy we towards climate change, or environmental issue, is a contribution to the most vulnerable. Like a a large bush fire, the battle against poverty and exploitation should be fought on many fronts. My new boss in Geneva, Bekele Geleta from Ethiopia, keeps reminding that whileus we work in poor communities to improve their lives we must at the same time pushing the envelope of humanitarian advocacy. People need to know the real reasons why there is such injustice and inequity in the world. Those people you struggle to engage Robb, because they don't wont to know, must be our targets. So many people in Germany in the late 1930s and early 40s, saw what Hitler was doing, but didn't want to know. There are too many Mozarts being murdered today. We can't turn a blind eye.

Look after that beautiful family of your Robb.

Ka kite ano. Arohnui


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