This past week the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in British Columbia released a “Ten Most-Wanted Criminals” list; two hand-counts of bad guys on the lam. Mug-shots and criminal histories included.
My plans to move to British Columbia are moving ahead at a good clip, so it was not without some interest that I read the details of my soon-to-be-neighbours. As I digested the litany of crimes and allegations, I found myself strangely comforted, warming anew to my home to be. Sure, the Mounties’ list includes the usual murderers, rapists and drug lords. Some of the photos attest to their fighting spirit. But there is also a man, earnestly sought, whose criminal activity is described as “property offences, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and mischief”. All very annoying stuff, I’m sure. But annoying enough for the Ten-Most-Wanted list of a province one-and-a-half times the size of France? Goodness, such stuff was the weekend pass-time of most of the kids with whom I went to high school. My heart is at peace again; all is well in British Columbia.
The list got me thinking. If I were the world’s benevolent dictator, with no-one beyond my reach, which ten shoulders would I tap with the finger of justice? It’s not as easy as you might think. You soon discover that you have to start categorizing the awfulness and reach of criminal behaviour. Okay, granted, on this particular week Muammar Gaddafi is an obvious choice, if only because his arrest would have immediate results on the blood-letting in North Africa. But where do you go from there? More dictators and despots? Would their replacements be any better? Mexican drug lords? Little lasting effect, me thinks, as long as there is demand north of the border. And too many of them. Corporate tycoons who knowingly run abusive industries, enslaving the lives of thousands? Where does one begin to quantify evil?
There are times when I purposefully don’t read the latest news reports of the world’s daily dose of mayhem and disaster. I get tired of it; I get overloaded. Or perhaps desensitized. In any case, the sheer volume of brokenness and frailty becomes too much for me and I choose to look the other way.
Maybe my retreat is okay when it comes to things far away. But what about the bit of the world that is mine to influence, where I live and whom I meet? Why is it so easy to be so enraged with injustices that are out of my reach, and so paralyzed with the abuses going on all around me?
A memory comes of a scene from the film “The Year of Living Dangerously“, starring two young, emerging actors at the time: Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver. The critical acclaim, however, was stolen by Linda Hunt and her performance in the role of an Indonesian photographer, Billy. With Gibson’s character, the journalist Guy, in tow, Billy heads into the slums to bring food to a destitute woman and her daughter. Guy scoffs at the gesture. This dialogue follows:
BILLY: And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
GUY: What’s that?
BILLY: It’s from Luke, chapter three, verse ten. What then must we do? Tolstoy asked the same question. He wrote a book with that title. He got so upset about the poverty in Moscow that he went one night into the poorest section and just gave away all his money. You could do that now. Five American dollars would be a fortune to one of these people.
GUY: Wouldn’t do any good, just be a drop in the ocean.
BILLY: Ahh, that’s the same conclusion Tolstoy came to. I disagree.
GUY: Oh, what’s your solution?
BILLY: Well, I support the view that you just don’t think about the major issues. You do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light. You think that’s naive, don’t you?