Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Splinters and Planks

There is a post going around Facebook these days related to the continuing crisis in Haiti (well there are many statuses related, but one that has really gotten me thinking). I have seen it on several friends status updates, and I won't name any names. Here is the text:

America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the balls to copy and repost this.

My first reaction was quite visceral, literally a punch to the gut. How could anyone resent aid sent to a country like Haiti. Even before the earthquake they were the poorest and most beleaguered country in the West. The government is so corrupt and incompetent that they couldn't handle the day-to-day needs of the country, let alone one in the throws of a devastating earthquake. Now the people of Haiti must literally dig themselves out of a hole even deeper than the one they were in before 60 - 90% of buildings in the affected areas came tumbling down on their heads.

At first I had my personal reaction, knew I would be part of the 99% that would not re-post this and moved on with my day. However, my mind kept coming back to this statement and how sad it was. Some of it is so true. Think of the daily suffering in the United States. There are homeless that freeze to death, families losing their homes, people losing jobs, tough medical decisions being made due to lack of insurance. Where was the telethon for the housing crisis, the unemployed, the homeless, seniors? Do we only see the suffering of others?

Last night, while trying to fall back asleep around 2am (insomnia is great for creativity), I thought of an old saying- "Take care of the plank in your own eye before you worry about the splinter in my eye." It is a great lesson in life. Spend your energy getting your big troubles and worries cared for before looking after me and my concerns. Frequently it applies quite well to life and should be thought of when you are expending enormous energy on someone else's troubles when your own life is falling apart. It doesn't apply here. While I agree that the problems the United States deals with may be plank-in-the-eye like, Haiti is dealing with far more than a splinter, far more than a plank. Haiti has been efficiently dismembered and left to die in the sun. Maybe our plank can wait while we help those less fortunate literally pick up the pieces of their homes, their loved ones, and their lives.

After all, are we bulldozing tens of thousands of Americans into poorly dug mass graves because there is no other solution? Are hundreds of thousands of our children looking into the abyss of orphan hood and street life? How many tens of thousands of our fellow countrymen have we dug out of collapsed buildings this week? Is 60% of New York City laying in ruin? Is our government so notorious for its corruption that most people in the world have little trust in it? Is a basic concern for us all safe drinking water? No, even the most unfortunate among us has access to help if they look for it.

We do look after the plank in our eye. We have shelters, food closets, welfare, food stamps, charity drives, clothes closets, Adopt-a-Family, free medical clinics, Planned Parenthood, churches, and so much more. We help by giving money to our churches, at the grocery store checkout we can donate to feed the needy, take canned goods to local food drives, we pay income tax, volunteer at shelters, make meals for soup kitchens, the list is endless. That shouldn't stop because at this moment in time we are asked to offer help to people facing a life of hardship that the poorest of us would see as beyond devastating.

For those that truly believe in that Facebook post, I hope you put your money where your mouth is and do all you can (financially and physically) to take care of America's "plank." If you really believe that we don't have the resources or the moral and humanitarian obligation to help anyone else, your free to feel that way and act accordingly. For me and my house, we are fed, clothed, warm, dry, healthy and safe. In a word we are blessed. I will continue to do all I can to help those in need in my own country, but in this time and on this day, I will find something in my personal life to sacrifice so I can help my fellow man. If one Haitian child goes to bed fed, warm, and safe that makes it worth it to me.

So there it is, my thoughts and musings on a thought-provoking Facebook post.


  1. Here are the latest numbers, as compiled by CNN:


    150,000: Latest estimate of the death toll,
    from the Haitian Health Ministry. The
    European Union and the Pan American Health
    Organization, which are coordinating the
    health-sector response, have estimated the
    quake killed 200,000 people.

    194,000: Number of injured

    134: Estimated number of people rescued by
    international search teams since the quake


    9 million: Population of Haiti
    3 million: Estimated number of people affected
    by the quake
    1 million: Estimated number of displaced people

    800,000 to 1 million: People who need temporary
    235,000: People who have left Port-au-Prince
    using free transportation provided by the
    government. The number who left by private
    means is undetermined.

    At least 50: Aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or higher that have hit Haiti since the January 12 quake


    300,000: Children younger than 2 who need
    nutritional support

    90: Percentage of schools in Port-au-Prince
    that have been destroyed

    263: Haitian orphans who have been evacuated


    $1.12 billion: International aid pledges
    $783 million: Funds received as of Tuesday
    $317 million: U.S. assistance as of Monday

  2. If a tragedy of this scale happened here it would translate a little like this:

    Total pop: 300 million people (as of 2008)
    100 million affected
    4 million displaced individuals
    needing temporary/permanent shelter
    3 - 6 million in mass graves/dead
    6 million injured
    9 million children needing
    nutritional support

    Imagine a country of any size, any government no matter how competent and caring responding to a crisis of this magnitude. Now try to imagine an impoverished country, with no topsoil, few natural resources, little effective government, and huge international debt trying to do it alone. How many more would die?

    Yep, maybe their splinter is a bit worse than my plank right now.