About life: Children trapped in a cave vs. children trapped in poverty, neglect

Isn’t it remarkable how the entire world came together to support and pray for the twelve boys and their leader trapped in a cave in Thailand? The outpouring of sympathy and hope is all the more amazing given the hostility, anger, and partisan bickering that so often pervades human relations. What is it about the plight of these youngsters that speaks to our “better angels” and why is it absent in so many other areas of human distress?
Where is it when children are the victims of senseless gun violence? Where is it when desperate refugees risk death to find a better life? Where is it when nations go to war and rain death and destruction on each other? How is it we identify so strongly with children trapped in a cave and ignore those trapped in poverty and neglect?
Perhaps it’s because we more easily identify with victims of natural disaster where there are few if any conflicting interests. We share a common bond of concern for the safety and well-being of others so long as it doesn’t cost us emotionally, financially, or politically. Love is easy in the abstract because it demands so little. It becomes far more burdensome, and, thus, unlikely, when we have to surrender things like money, access to guns, power, control, and status.
Love requiring little of us beyond sympathy and compassion is easy. It makes us feel better about ourselves. But when the expression of love demands we give up or modify things we value, that’s another story. We then enter the realm of selfless love, putting whom we love before our desire for independence and autonomy. Love for a spouse or for one’s children is an obvious example, although even that generous love confers benefits on the partner and parent.
Humans are incapable of absolute, selfless love, the kind that provides no perceived or actual benefits for the lover. Such love is what believers hope God has for mankind and will prompt mercy for our many transgressions. Other loves do not directly involve people as objects, such as love of nature, principle, truth, justice, literature, and art. These, too, are very important and require action to preserve and promote in the interest of mankind.
It’s regrettable there is so little love manifest now in the workings of our government. Self-interest prevails in all its crudest forms as “us against them” replaces the “common good” as an operating principle. Why is it the love evident in the concern for the boys in the cave, the worldwide outpouring of support, admiration of the rescuers, and joy at their recovery does not translate into other aspects of our lives? It’s there, but it’s a too often dormant natural expression of solidarity, compassion, and shared humanity.
Maybe it will happen when we decide to love ourselves a little bit less and our neighbor a little bit more and accept the often overlooked and equally important part of that admonition: “Everybody is our neighbor.”
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.