Saturday, 17 May 2008

Going to the wall, and the power of a name.

A friend’s son is in the Balkans on a young photojournalist project and he posted this yesterday about Raza an old blind Roma woman they came across.

Does it help the situation or even her situation that her plight is portrayed so graphically, especially in a world that at the present is inundated with disasters of such immense proportions, as in China or Burma? There is that horrible phrase, compassion fatigue. We stare at images or read reports and we become anaesthetised to the pain and horror of it all. Is one old woman’s story any use, is one old woman’s image going to change anything? No one can say and so no one can reject its power, its potential for good. Cynicism does nothing, hope may do something, so a no-brainer really. What our response should be however is the stickier problem.

In Burma and China thousands upon thousands are also dying or living in terrible conditions. The young and the old always go to the wall first in any crisis situation. That saying ‘going to the wall’ comes from the days when churches had no seating and those who could not stand up for the length of the service were said to go to the wall in order to have something to lean on to support themselves during an interminable mass, hence the phrase ‘the weakest go to the wall’. We tend to use it now to indicate death, the weakest die first but originally there was something hopeful in that phrase, something was there to offer support, a wall. We may not be able to be a wall but I suppose if there are enough individuals around who care we could each be one small brick in it ( not in the Pink Floyd sense).

Ships full of aid sit waiting for the permission of the Burmese Government to let them unload their desperately needed cargo. Thousands literally have no wall to lean on in Burma and the outside world is the only wall they can look to for support. I note the French government is indicating that the government in Burma is committing a crime against humanity in not allowing aid and aid workers into the country. Fat chance we have of seeing the Burmese generals in the dock at the Hague and perhaps such statement only push them further into an entrenched position of isolationism. In denouncing something do we illuminate that behaviour on the world stage and make it less likely to happen or does denouncement in itself put up the shutters and make it less likely that the behaviour will change? I really don’t know and perhaps each situation is different and has its own scenario. What we can maybe contribute is a sense of expectation that our own governments will do something positive and proactive to help not only in the case of huge disasters as in Burma but in the small painful situations, like Raza's in which people can be lost to situations which threaten to overwhelm them and leave them without hope or the means to find it. This old woman has a name, there is something powerful about a name, a marker of someone's individuality and signature on the world.

Strangely, yesterday I was also sent a link by a friend to a short animation that makes the point about individual response to loss of hope and the power of a name.

Does it help if we have no expectation of hope and change?

I am sorry if this post is more than a little serious, I hope it has not strayed into polemic. I was really giving myself a good talking to here and allowing you , dear reader, to eavesdrop on it, not presuming to preach.

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