Look ’em in the eye

This past Monday, the French government began shutting down the notorious “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais. Thousands of people have lived there over the years as they wait for access to the UK. Sometimes they get in legally, sometimes they get in illegally, many of them wait and wait. And wait.

Whether they are refugees from a war-torn country, are escaping political or religious oppression, or are looking for a better life, I know just one thing: Leaving your home and the people you love with only the clothes on your back is a significant thing. Traveling across seas in life boats is not undertaken lightly. People who do this are in need. People who do this need a chance. People who do this deserve attention, respect, and caring.

I never kid myself that I’m not lucky. I am a very lucky person. By the luck of my birth, I carry an American passport. I was born to two educated parents, who made sure I was educated. I have my health. I have my family. My heat turns on in the winter. This makes me one of the luckiest people on earth, and I don’t take this for granted. And yet…

  • I am guilty of looking away when confronted by people who are less fortunate.
  • I feel slightly vindicated when I drop a coin into a hat.
  • I sometimes get annoyed when people ask for money.
  • I move right on, when I don’t know what to do.

I know I’m not alone in this. We can’t all throw ourselves into every cause there is. I wonder if some of the vitriol we see about immigrants and refugees isn’t a bit about a feeling of helplessness.

Maybe this is why I was so moved by this video by Amnesty Poland. Pairs of people, one of them always a refugee, were asked to sit across from each other for four minutes and look into each others’ eyes. Such a simple gesture. Such a beautiful way to express caring and respect for another human being. We are more alike than we are different, and each pair found commonalities as they looked, said hello, smiled, maybe touched.

And in the end, whether rich or poor; white, brown, or black; gay or straight or somewhere in between; home-secure or homeless; safe or refugee, aren’t we all just people?

Today I vow to work on my guilty feelings. To look less fortunate people in the eye and acknowledge their humanity. To say hello when I drop a coin in the hat. To give simply because another needs it more than I do. To take off the blinders and pay attention.


Thank you:

Amnesty Poland for the inspiring video: Look Beyond Borders

Flickr and Zlatko Unger for Refugee


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