Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What have we learned from the tragedy?

I read this commentary in the Boston Globe by Ellen Goodman:

"…It was in the personal tragedy we felt our unity. Waves swept away Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians with a ferocious indifference. The tsunami took no side in the decades-old enmities over borders and beliefs…

Once again, unified in the face of catastrophe, we hit the pause button on our own man-made conflicts…But I also watch us inch back to “normal.” On Page 1, the fury of nature shares space again with the folly of humanity. The victims of nature make room for the victims of man-made conflict.

Is this inevitable? What can you and I do about it? "

Goodman concludes with an intriguing observation and an unsettling question: “Even now, in the wake of the tsunami, we know more about tectonic plates buried under the ocean than we do about our own heart of darkness. Where on earth is the early warning system for man-made disasters?”

Some people call that early warning system the conscience. It’s the still small voice that tells us when we’ve done wrong. It’s also the clarion call to action when we don’t feel satisfied with things as they are.

The tsunami opened hearts and minds the world over. Almost all of us donated some funds or something. But now what?

While millions continue to battle for survival, aren’t our consciences telling us to seize this moment to examine the root causes of conflict?

Let’s start with something we seemed to have forgotten—until December 26.

We all die the same. And we’re all born the same.

So what happens in between?

One thing I’m sure of: Children don’t naturally hate.

To paraphrase some lyrics from the musical South Pacific, they’ve got to be carefully taught before it’s too late, before the age of six, seven or eight. We’ve been very good at teaching.
Is it too late to do some learning?

Storyteller Raymond Macdonald Alden writes of a young man who was not willing to stand by as his kingdom and six others like it on the same island fought incessantly over the one resource they all lacked: water. The suffering of his people drove him on a quest for knowledge that led him beyond the borders of his own land. Fearless in the face of certain death at the hands of the enemy, he journeyed through all seven kingdoms.

Counter to everything he had been taught during years of war, he found that all peoples were essentially alike. All seven kingdoms were in equal need of water.

He delved into the legends of his own people, risking the wrath of his king and fellow subjects. A wise and old man gave him a copy of the Great Book.

In it he read: “What one cannot, two can do, what two cannot, three can do…what six cannot, seven can do.” On the seventh page of the book was written this simple sentence: “One for all, and all for each.”

The young man studied the lore of the land, discovering that a spring that once supplied ample water for all seven kingdoms was lost at the time the people ceased to follow the teachings of the Great Book.

His call for a gathering of the seven kings was deemed high treason after thousands of men had died in defense of his country. Only a severe drought forced his king to take unilateral action and send a letter to the other kings, inviting them to unite in the search for the hidden spring. Since no king was willing to let others into his kingdom, armies picked up picks and shovels and descended on the center of the island.

Centuries of conflict had built large walls between the kingdoms, converging at a central point. Excitement mounted as the dynamite was laid to the rock foundations. The explosion shook the earth and a mighty shout went up from the watchers.

Where the ancient walls once stood, a fountain of water shot skyward.

How to deliver it to the seven kingdoms?

By this time the young man had the ear of all the people.

His answer: Knock down the full length of each wall from the island’s center to the sea. Sure enough, as the walls disappeared each revealed a hidden stream.

It was discovered that these streams formed the original boundaries of the seven kingdoms.
As each kingdom sought to preserve its own wealth, walls were formed on each side of, and then across, the streams. The life-bringing spring itself was blocked as the walls converged.
The story of the lost water and its rediscovery was written into the Great Book, lest future generations forget and return to normal.

Does this story apply to you, your home, workplace, house of worship, town, city, or nation?

(If you have children, read it to them and listen to what they say.)

What have we learned in the weeks and months since December 26?

What is next?

(The story summarized here, "The Seven Kingdoms and the Hidden Spring" by Raymond Macdonald Alden (1873-1924), is from the book The Boy who Found the King (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1922).)

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