Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Proximity Factor

Upon awakening on Sunday morning a couple weeks ago, I was greeted by my husband's advisory: "The town of Parkersberg was demolished last night by a tornado. Seven dead." Horror and trembling galvanized me. I had slept peacefully through the storm. These others didn't wake up that morning, not so very far away from me, in a little town I've been acquainted with off-and-on over the years. Unfortunately in the path of an EF-5 tornado, it was effectively eliminated.

The Iowa news media blanketed the state with coverage of the devastation and its aftermath. Iowans poured forth volunteer assistance and donations. Nice.

I've mused these two weeks since on the tens of thousands dead in Myranmar from a cyclone. And, there's no forgetting the earthquake in China where thousands of people died or are missing, and more than 270,000 were injured. The China earthquake left an estimated five million people homeless, with over 200,000 recently evacuated for fear of flooding. Despite the overwhelming magnitude of these events, the disaster in tiny Parkersberg wielded the greater emotional impact to me.

I suspect that the greater the heart and the more well-developed the individual's morality, the more that person can transcend "the proximity factor" in allowing her/his heart to be moved. It's only when my vision perceives "the other" as "related to me" that I'm willing to extend myself in a generous, compassionate response.

The challenge, then, is to make my heart bigger and see myself as part of the whole. I want to keep pushing "the proximity factor" into ever lengthening measures.

6 comments:

eProf2 said...

If you created the term "the proximity factor," I'm impressed. If not, you're still right on the money when it comes to emotional grief over those losses that are closest to us. Another example would be 9/11. While Americans killed in Iraq is a tragedy, most Americans could care less what's happening to Iraqis, who have lost who knows how many, probably in the hundreds of thousands since 2003. Genocide in Rwanda, the Congo, Cambodia, the Sudan, Darfur, et cetera, gets nary a peep unless we're close to the events and the situation. Your conclusion is a good one: we all need to make our hearts (and minds) bigger. Thank you for a very thoughtful post.

Border Explorer said...

Thank YOU, eprof. I coined the term "proximity factor" to help me name the concept I was thinking about. But I don't suppose I'm the first person to ever say that phrase. (Maybe I'll Google it and see what comes up.)
I completely agree with your 9/11 example as well as the Iraqi civilian deaths. Sometimes I don't even bother to try to explain that to people, but simply speak their language by talking about American deaths in Iraq. But to me the real travesty is the decimation of the Iraqi population since the war began--actually in 1990.

dada said...

revealing my proximity factor empathies vs. my quantum non-locality apathies, I'm glad you brought this up B.E. Not to reveal my weaknesses here, but answer a question that Mrs. Dada and I mulled over (and over) after the initial news of that horrendous Iowa night when so many suffered so much.

And we wondered how close that had come to you and Mr. B.E. (I'd really intended to inquire.) But then came new blog entries without mention of that horrific night for so many and I concluded it must have been some distance from you (i.e., enter my non-local empathetic inabilities).

We're glad you slept thru it all and were safe. BTW, how far is Parkersville? (Or should I say "was Parkersville?")

D.K. Raed said...

This is a wonderful concept, "the proximity factor". Catastrophes, death & pain does feel very far away when your daily physical contact is the peaceful streets & people of your town. I join with your thoughtful wish about expanding our hearts, so that one day everything will feel like it's right next door.

Border Explorer said...

Parkersburg is about 170 miles from here. I used to live closer, and would drive past it frequently. They want to rebuild. Lots of clean up needs to happen before any rebuilding starts. Thanks for your concerned thoughts, Dada & Mrs. D.

I reflect often on the quote: "What you see depends on where you stand." Here in N. America we are insulated from so much physical suffering and need. It is easy to forget it exists, although I try not to. This Parkersburg incident coming on the heels of disasters in Asia taught me that I've still got a long way to go to minimize "the proximity factor."

BTW, I did Google that term and found--not surprisingly--I am not the first person to put those two words together. However it seems they normally refer to other concepts than the one I assigned to it.

enigma4ever said...

I was watching the folks sandbagging in Indiana...and thinking that they don't know each other...but there they are filling the bags....Together...as an army against bigger forces.. Fighting damage...and Demise...

So many people are taking care of each other around the world...reaching out....the "Proximity Factor" is changing...shifting...a really interesting term...and way of examing issues of closeness...of the heart....

and you are feeling it too...the shifting the changes...

beautiful post....

( about Iraq....1.2 Million...and counting...so horrible...)