Three important notes regarding the typhoon tragedy in the Philippines

1.   An ideal way to help

Thanks to Foundation Beyond Belief, I found an aid organization that claims to use 100% of all donations directly to help the survivors of the typhoon.  In addition, the aid organization is already based in the Philippines, knows the lay of the land and the needs, and probably also isn’t having the challenges that some foreign aid organizations are having landing their planes, etc.  It’s super easy and takes two minutes, by going here.

2.   A human in the Philippines is the same as a human in Oklahoma, right?

Twenty-six humans lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting  in December 2012, and 25 humans passed away in the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado last May.  Many times more humans have lost their lives in the typhoon, and yet many Americans may not respond the way they did to the tragedies that hit closer to home.

Since we have no reason to believe a human life in the Philippines is any less worthy than that of our neighbor – as Rava put it in the Talmud, “Who says your blood is redder?  Perhaps the blood of that man is redder (Sanhedrin 74a)?” we need to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of “psychological distance,” as social psychologist Brittany Shoots-Reinhard writes.  In this short but helpful piece, Dr. Shoots-Reinhard explains the roots of the problem and suggests two simple ways to undo the psychological distance and ensure that we and our children and students respond appropriately to such a tragedy:

a)      Commonalities – e.g. see for ourselves and show our children and students the way the tragedy has affected parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents and siblings, people who have lost their most precious family heirlooms – all things to which any of us living anywhere could relate.

b)      Stories – hearing/relating a story of a family or an individual affected by the tragedy makes the victim(s) more identifiable.  And when a victim is identifiable (e.g. Trayvon Martin, Gilad Shalit, etc.), the psychological distance is greatly mitigated.

3.       The humanist response

If anyone ever asks you what the humanist/atheist response is to a public catastrophe like this, this is an approach that resonates with and inspires me:


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