It's a phenomenon as old as humanity. Slaves and prisoners pitted against one another, or against fierce animals. Bull fights. Dog fights. Chicken fights. Boxing. Wrestling. Why? I understand the Asian martial arts, to some extent, because of the discipline, self control, and physical beauty that go along with them. At least they emphasize the importance of only challenging a worthy adversary. But I don't get why people want to fight one another, and especially why fighting and death are spectator sports. Why did townspeople gather to watch beheadings, hangings, burnings at the stake? What's the appeal of a scream of abject terror and unbearable suffering?
We value heroic acts. We value strength. We believe, to some extent, that might makes right. We romanticize the notion of fighting for one's principles. But at the same time we turn our backs on our suffering neighbors. We don't want to see mental illness or addiction, disease from exposure or malnutrition. We recognize that these are solvable problems, and we're willing to toss a little money at them, but we don't want to get too close.
Why is watching people die a component of entertainment, but knowing people nearby are dying is an unbearable thought we choose to ignore?
I had the great pleasure of spending an hour yesterday with our county coordinator of the Oregon Food Bank, discussing gaps in meeting hunger needs and how my little charity can be most effective. Most people here are getting food of some kind, enough to keep them alive anyway, even if they're hungry more often than they should be. They're not getting nutritious food, though. Kids are going to school with nothing but starch and sugar in their bellies, not enough to sustain them through the morning or promote growth or health. So they suffer. They get sick, miss too many days of school, are unable to concentrate or remember or learn. They become drop-outs, working part-time jobs that can't support them. They're having children too early with too few resources, and continuing the cycle of illness, lack of education, and poverty.
This is where we need our heroes. This is where victory matters. It's not a dramatic fight. It's not entertaining. It involves connecting with people we'd rather avoid. Teaching. Showing up, again and again, to share nutrition information, offer classes, develop community groups.
Caring. It's a much tougher battle than fighting. I think we can rise to the challenge.