Thursday, November 4, 2010


In a recent "BEING/Speaking of Faith ", Krista Tippett interviews NY Times Journalist Nicholas Kristof. Mr Kristof talks about how mass need paralyzes peoples' capacity to give. Tippett points to the emotional response that one specific story might create in a listener's heart a kind of "portal" for compassion. Through this portal of compassion the listener might be moved to give or to take action for change.

I connected with this notion when I thought about the two dozen the United Way rallies that I have been a part of in the last 11 weeks. And, I realized the importance of telling Just Our Story about why I personally "Live United." When we were first trained on this presentation, I wanted to share all the wonderful things that United Way is doing and describe all the terrible statistics that point to the broad and deep need in our community.

Now, having heard this small snippet about Rokia and Moussa on the interview, I understood why one personal story is more powerful. Here is a partial transcript of the full interview:


Ms. Tippett: But there's some way you put that and somewhere you said that the emotional response becomes a portal and then rational arguments like numbers can play a supporting role.


Mr. Kristof: That opening, that connection, that empathy, is really an emotional one. It's done based on individual stories. And we all know that there is this compassion fatigue as the number of victims increases, but what the research has shown that is kind of devastating is that the number at which we begin to show fatigue is when the number of victims reaches two.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Would you tell the story about Rokia and Moussa, the photograph that they used to illustrate this?

Mr. Kristof: Yeah. This is from the work of a psychologist called Paul Slovic. There were experiences where people were shown a photo of a starving girl from Mali called Rokia, a seven-year-old girl, and asked to contribute in various different scenarios. And then also a boy named Moussa. And essentially people would donate a lot of money. If they saw that Rokia was hungry, they wanted to help her. Likewise, when they saw a picture of Moussa, they wanted to help him. But the moment you put the two of them together and asked people to help both Rokia and Moussa, then at point donations dropped. And by the time you ask them to donate to 21 million hungry people in West Africa , you know, nobody wanted to contribute at all.

Ms. Tippett: Because they're overwhelmed by that, or it doesn't spark the same reaction that actually enables people to act.


For me, I have wondered how God could possible contain all the world's misery. Or even all the world's joy. It's just too massive for my little heart.( That's why God's God and not me.) Perhaps this is a portal to my own understanding that might possibly apply to God - that through personal stories, personal narratives, personal sacred moments... God does Give. God does Take Action. God Cares. God Loves.

What is your portal, showing up in this moment?

So let's go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This "insider world" is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let's take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus' name. Hebrews 13:13

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