Tuesday, 4 January 2011
con la esperanza se vive: a victory for mankind
Written in October, 2010.
How great was the news that all of "Los 33" were rescued successfully, and in good conditions, this week? It was an amazing story, and one which will stay with us and be celebrated for a long time. The truth is, I don't know anyone who hasn't felt somehow personally affected by the Chilean Miners' rescue.
There's been a buzz in the office and at home and when out with friends, everyone crowding round the nearest tv screen as we watch, one by one, the miners being brought to the surface. There's been the normally emotionless faces of one of my fellow commuters suddenly breaking into a huge, genuine grin when talking on the phone to his loved one about the rescues, and a subsequent smile forming on the face of several people around him, just because they were reminded of the operation and its success. And there's been me almost missing my train to work after spending fifteen minutes mesmerised by one of the miner's re-emergence to the surface being shown live on TV, watching the capsule break into the sunlight and the touching reunion of husband and wife; only stopping to realise afterwards that I had to wipe away tears rolling down my cheeks.
So why has this story affected us all so much?
Because it was covered extensively in the media? Almost certainly; after all, the latest report out shows that the BBC spent £100,000 on their live coverage of the events. Because what the miners had to survive is most people's worst nightmare? Most probably; it's hard to imagine much worse than 70 hot, dark, long, starving days down a mine, and spending the majority of that time not knowing whether anyone on the surface was even aware you were still alive.
More than either of these things, though, this story seemed to affect the world so much as it had this great, sudden ability to make people feel, for a moment, somehow united in their hope that these miners would survive, live and regain full health.
It's mankind's nature to be curious when events unfold and to be unable to tear ourselves away; after all, there's no denying that a certain part of the fascination that the rescue operation held was an awful, watching-from-between-my-fingers anticipation how potentially wrong things could go. But it is also mankind's nature to rejoice with others when things go well - and this, in truth, is why there was such a global sense of unity and compassion towards the miners.
And ok, so all this talk of a unison of mankind may seem wildly exaggerated - but it actually seems to hold true; a quick internet search brings up a plethora of inspirational quotes relating to the rescue operation, from different countries, in different languages - but they all say the same thing. "It was a victory day for mankind" says one report; "the rescue... clearly demonstrated the co-operation of the entire world uniting in a common cause" says another, going even further to compare the compassion generated around the globe for the miners as feeling as if the world were "holding hands".
This event certainly deserved global compassion and celebration - in truth, how often is it that the world pulls together over any news story, and especially one of such extreme positivity?
Reactions around the globe show that the rescue has, deservingly, restored many people's faith in the compassion, dedication and bravery of mankind, of the merits and abilities of others to influence the world in such a positive way; for many people across the world, it is as if the news has made them stop and think, for a moment in their busy lives, about what selflessness, compassion, bravery and hope can achieve. And that is a reflection, and a realisation, which should be contemplated more often than it is in modern society.
The truth is, this is a lesson for selfishness; the perfect opportunity to be reminded of something that perhaps we had forgotten - that self-absorption may well be the source of emotional and, indeed, actual destruction of our society.
Reading El País yesterday, and taking in the rescued miners' words in the original language that they were uttered, a common theme permeated all the interviews. Yes, they discussed the mine, and how the terrible conditions were; and yes, they raised and re-iterated their concerns over improving mine safety not only in Chile but across the world. More than that, though, the miners seemed united in their desire to dwell most on one topic: their loved ones. The thought of spending time with their relatives again, they said, was what had caused them to cling onto hope in the mine, and was what they now, after being rescued, wanted to focus the rest of their life on.
And that, precisely, shows the danger of the self-absorption of modern society. We are a society of busy, demanding lives; conflicting schedules; a hectic work life with leisure time squeezed in around it. We are a society of ready-meals, of work hard-play hard; of not enough hours in the day, and of wanting everything, and wanting it now. We always have to be doing something, going somewhere, checking something; too often, it seems that we've lost the ability, the time, or perhaps even the inclination, to simply sit, relax and enjoy the things we most value in life.
And what do we value most in life, really? Money, promotions, a house, extravagance, the lastest technology, luxury holidays - there's no denying that living a high-powered, active life can bring extreme satisfaction. But ask anyone what three things they want most in life, and amid the career and the money and the success you'll almost certainly hear that they want to be surrounded by loved ones; by friends, partners, relatives that can share in the success and the disasters of our individual lives.
All too often does the notion that it would be better to have little but to have people to share it with, than to have everything and to be, ultimately, relatively alone seem increasingly relevant to our society. And we are in serious danger of isolating ourselves from the rest of the world; our ruthlessness and ambition and desire for success can, without caution, lead to extreme self-absorption and single-mindedness, to the extent that we end up sacrificing precious time with others in preference for furthering our other, non-social, achievements - to the eventual effect of melancholy and depression; to the feeling of having it all, but having nothing.
And again, this may seem wildly exaggerated and melodramatic; but why else have several UK women's monthly magazines published articles in the past few months on the rapidly increasing numbers of women who strive to 'have it all', and, despite enjoying success, end up feeling so desperately lonely and upset that they take medication, see psychiatrists and feel, ultimately, completely alone.
And this is not to say that we shouldn't strive for successful careers, for ambitious attitudes and for personal achievement; but what this is to say is that if we don't make enough time to share our rewards and satisfaction with others, then we will always, ultimately, be left feeling like something was missing - be left wanting something a little bit more.
So keep in mind the feel-good global "hand-holding" that swept over us with the Chilean Miners story this week; the feeling that compassion and the will to help others still had a real place in the world; the feeling of being more at one with others in our local and global communities. Our challenge now is not to forget that feeling, but to cling onto it and to try our best to move away from self-absorption and personal insularity, and towards, instead, building a more compassionate, understanding and supportive society, where everyone has the will to help and spend time with others alongside chasing other personal goals.