“The Family of Man” is a book of photographs that was published in 1955. Its goal was to show that people are basically alike the world over: loving, eating, playing, growing, dancing, learning, fighting, working and aging.
The year 1955 was also when Mamie and I started our family. Our first child, Michael, was born that year. I did believe then that we were all members of the human family, but I’m not so sure now. Am I really a cousin to the people in Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan or China? Do I really feel any kinship with them?
Consider this. Last week 10 people were killed in a fiery crash on Interstate 5 about 70 miles north of Sacramento. Killed were five Southern California high school students, three adult chaperones, their bus driver and the driver of the trailer truck that hit them.
I didn’t know any of them. They weren’t from around here, but still I felt actual sadness. Other people probably did, too. It was a major tragedy reported on network newscasts.
There were also follow-up reports. The Tribune carried daily front-page stories for three more days. Monday’s paper said the truck wasn’t burning before it hit the bus, as some witness believed. Tuesday’s Tribune said both the drivers had clean driving records.
Tuesday’s paper also carried a headline on Page A5 that caught my eye. It said, “Bomb blast at bus stop kills 72 in Nigeria.” The blast also wounded at least 164 other people. But it didn’t make me feel anything special.
I felt no strong emotion probably because the bomb hadn’t exploded in California and none of the victims were Americans. So, sad to say, I barely felt superficial sympathy.
But that shouldn’t have surprised me. It’s a story as old as the New Testament parable about the Good Samaritan. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know that story. Everybody’s heard of the Good Samaritan.
A lawyer once asked Jesus, who is his neighbor whom he must love. Jesus answered with the story of a man who was badly beaten and robbed and left along a road. A priest and another religious official walked past the man without stopping to help.
But a stranger from Samaria did stop. He cleaned and bandaged the victim’s wounds, took him to an inn and paid for his room and board during his recovery. The lawyer had to concede that, of the three passersby, the Samaritan was the neighbor to the robbery victim. Jesus said, “Go thou and do likewise.”
The Family of Man of 1955 was probably too much to expect of us, but we should at least try for a Neighborhood of Man.