It happens after every tragedy:
- People bravely risk for the good of… others
- People mournfully remember… others
- People come together and take care of… others
From school shootings to Boston bombings, we see the best of human character emerge to begin picking up the pieces. It’s the kind of thing that brings a chill to the spine… and a tear to the eye. It knits us together, even if only for a moment, into the fabric of family.
But in my mind, it raises two important questions…
1. Why Do We Wait?
People will do anything for one another after a tragedy. People will risk their lives to pull debris off of others… people will pinch off an artery of a complete stranger with their bare hands in time of tragedy… nothing is off limits to help the “other.”
So I find it fascinating, in times of plenty and peace, that we will rarely do anything for each other. We don’t pull the debris of busy lives off each other to make time to get to know each other. And if there’s any artery-pinching to be done, it’s a desire to choke the “other,” not help them.
Perhaps the greater, but more subtle tragedy, is that we wait until tragedy strikes before we consider the other.
2. How Much Longer Will We See This Reaction?
I’m always amazed at the stories that come out of tragedy: the selflessness, the courage, and the community that emerges. They represent the very best of us: character under fire… compassion without measuring cost.
And yet I wonder… is this something innate that lives deep within us? Or is this something that is learned... that must be passed down from generation to generation? Because both options have great potential, and great hazard.
If character and compassion are innate to us, then my question becomes, “What would it look like to live in a world of compassion without measuring cost?” Must things get so bad… so constantly terrible, that we finally see the need for this character in our daily lives? Or can we learn to proactively bring forth character and compassion BEFORE tragedy strikes?
And if character and compassion must be passed down, then where are they being learned? Because… frankly and frighteningly… the world I see being pieced back together after tragedy quickly returns to a focus on self, isolation, and consumption… but not compassion, not on the “other.”
Where will the next generation learn? What happens next time we have to crack open the doors to our supply of character and compassion on a grand scale, only to find that we haven’t stocked the warehouse for the future?
Whether they are within us (and waiting to be proactively summoned), or learned, the next generation will learn character and compassion as they see them demonstrated.
And they will learn one of two things, based on our actions. They will learn that character and compassion are reserved as a response to a tragedy,
They will learn that character and compassion are a lifestyle, because they see them demonstrated every day… at every turn.
Perhaps this time, as America picks up the pieces, we’ll fit the pieces into one great puzzle instead of taking our individual pieces home for ourselves.
And if that happens, I think we’ll finally get a glimpse of the big picture God intends for us to see everyday. People living in community, with compassion and character… people living in true freedom:
“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Gal 5:13–14 NLT).