Lange: Compassion is Contagious

Aug 14, 2015

I’ve been feeling haunted by these images: People with little but the clothes on their back, traumatized from whatever they fled from – these people facing protesters and sometimes outright violence in the countries they thought of as safe havens. In one small town in eastern Germany, 100 police offers have been placed on 24 hour watch at a temporary shelter for newly arrived refugees.

Ironically, one of the organizations that encourages such protests calls itself the “Initiative for homeland protection”. I wonder what its members would do if Germany were the scene of a horrific civil war, if their “homeland” were ruled by a despot, and if they or their loved ones were at risk of being persecuted or killed for their opinions or religious affiliation.

So far this year, there have been over 30 attacks on facilities housing asylum seekers in the federal state of Saxony alone.

Such occurrences are not limited to Germany, but somehow, I cannot help but take these acts of violence personally when they happen there. I am both German and a foreigner. I can well relate to the love the protesters have for their country. And even though I did not have to leave my home country under duress, I do know what it is like to start a new life in a place where you have no history, where you don’t hear your native language spoken on the radio, and where you have to learn your way around society from scratch.

I am not telling you these things to spread my sense of sadness over these acts of aggression. In fact, I want to share an antidote, a story that recently took place on an Intercity train. The conductor was telling a young African man that because he had no ticket, he would be arrested at the next station. A woman from several seats away got up, walked over to the conductor, and paid the equivalent of $150 for the young man’s ticket. By the time she had returned to her seat, several other passengers had come over to give her money from their own wallets. Within minutes, she had recouped more than half the money she had paid.

I read about this in a major German weekly that runs a column for readers called “Moments that enrich my life”. An excellent use of the news media if you ask me: To report stories that remind us of our shared humanity, and show us that compassion is contagious.