Column: The human community

Over the past several weeks, so many families in Texas learned an important lesson about what it means to be citizens, neighbors and members of the human community. Today, Florida and East Coast residents are being tested.

And, as always, our citizens had — and are having — a unique experience of observing how community is defined.

In the play, Our Town, Thornton Wilder addressed one of his key players in this manner: “Jane Crofeet, the Crofeet Farm, Grover’s Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God.”

Clearly, Wilder was placing Jane Crofeet in the position of world citizen.

It isn’t easy to view ourselves in this expansive, inclusive way. The world most of us live in is small. We talk with neighbors down the street, drive to see friends in Phoenix, visit with relatives in California.

But what do we have in common with residents of African countries who wait in line every day to get potable water, of skeletal children slowly dying of starvation in Somalia, or the street kids in Brazil’s cities who live hand to mouth. Do we see these distant foreigners as brothers and sisters? Down deep, most of us realize that no one of us can live alone. We don’t possess the knowledge or skills to live independently from others. Unless we are fools, we recognize that we are interdependent human beings, and that living among neighbors requires mutual caring and sharing.

It’s when we hear of suffering from natural disasters, like Texas or Florida, or children being murdered, families starving, that we try to understand our roles in the larger human community. We wonder how we can appropriately respond to great tragedies.

In our hearts, many of us sense that we are part of something greater than a selected part of a neighborhood, town, state or nation. Like Jane Crowfeet, we acknowledge membership in a global, all-inclusive community. We recognize our responsibility for the welfare of humankind.

We may recall the teachings of Jesus: “…for I was hungry and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came unto me.”

What is critical is to recognize that those acts in the best interests of others are, ultimately, in our own best interests as well. If one attempts to feed starving families or works to protect innocent children from those who would harm them, then that person is acting on behalf of all of us.

As world citizens we are called to stretch ourselves, broaden our view of humanity, and share in the actions of our times with whatever skills, talents and resources we possess.

Individual action to relieve the pain and suffering of others is part of certifying that we are members of the human community.

It is one way each of us can amount to something — and count for much.