Somewhere in this Blog, years ago, I shared my guilty conscience about having not just one home, virtually empty, where I live alone, but two such homes – each of which is necessarily totally empty for half the year. I wondered out loud about offering free lodging to a homeless family – a somewhat more significant gesture than the occasional paltry two-figure check to charities dedicated to providing lodging for the down and out. This, on the contrary, would be a truly significant way of helping the homeless and homing the helpless, for as long as it took them to make a go of it on their own.
All of my friends, without exception, told me to forget it, to stop thinking I was St Vincent de Paul or Mother Teresa, to wake up to the fact that by taking in such a family, chances are not only that it would become permanent but that they would remain dirt-poor and I would myself be impoverished.
Countries facing the clandestine immigration of refugees put more or less stringent limits on legal immigration for the same reasons given me by my friends. Michel Rocard, as a Socialist Prime Minister of France, famously said “We cannot take in all the misery of the world” : further support for my wise refusal to give into my noble sentiment of human fraternity . . .
The metaphor of the raft already heavily loaded with survivors of the shipwreck naturally comes to mind. There are people still in the water, struggling to keep afloat. Room for one more ? Maybe – but not for the ten of them begging to be dragged aboard. Do we beat them off with an oar ? S O S : Save Our Skins ; we can’t endanger the lives of the people lucky enough (like me !) to be already out of the water, though still not out of harm’s way. So, Sorry : No Vacancies !
“Omne exemplum claudicat” : “Every example limps”. Is our country, are our homes, are our economies “rafts” in danger of sinking if we allow others to come aboard ? Are we sure this would strain our resources to breaking point ? How far are we prepared to go ? What are acceptable (?) limits to the influx of immigrants ? Are we capable of making – and are we willing to accept – objective assessments of our capacities to share our “Lebensraum”, our … living room, if not our living rooms ? Am I my brother’s keeper ?
There are limits on how far we can go in sharing the advantages we have, both as countries and as individuals. Most of us, including myself, can clearly do more, much more, than we do. But we are programed to give priority to our own survival. We admire, but feel we cannot emulate, people prepared to sacrifice their life to save others. “Greater love than this” will remain the ideal, if not the impossible dream. Meanwhile humanity’s heroes continue to challenge us to question our self-centeredness. We should at least pause to ask whether we can live with ourselves if we live only for ourselves.