Man is the measure of all things

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

Captains Blog June 27th 2010

Petit-Goave, Haiti.

“Man is the measure of all things.” –Protagoras, ca 450 BC

He suffers abuse at home and still tried to save this bird injured by someone's slingshot

Last night I watched Frank Capra’s great 1936 masterpiece ‘Lost Horizon.’ Set in a mystical land called Shangri-La, it is the story of a man who worked for peace in a world constantly at war. It is about a man, a diplomat, who dreams of a world run on compassion and dignity.

After his plane crashes en route from China, he finds himself far up in the Himalayas in the hidden valley known as Shangri-La. The valley is a community based on kindness and simple courtesy to one another. It is a paradise.

This is a beautiful story about what everyone wishes were true, but no one believes is possible.

When Frank Capra premiered the film, many snide comments were made about how silly it was. The movie that proclaimed the secret of a happy life is to “Be Kind” to one another was considered “Capracorn.”

That selfish cynicism nearly destroyed Frank Capra.

Almost everyone secretly wishes there were some place they could lay down their stresses and burdens and pains and needs. That place, as fanciful, exotic and remote as Shangri-La, can be wherever people practice kindness to each other.

And kindness is always a choice.

There is a little boy, about 8 years old (going on 48), who lives next door to the clinic. As is not uncommon here, he is a kid from a rural community whose parents have ‘placed’ him with another family here in town to work as kind of a servant. They beat him.

Sky brought him to see me one day because it looked like he had defensive wounds, which he did. I have treated him for these injuries more than once. Sometimes other little boys in the area throw rocks at him. He doesn’t say much, and never asks for a thing, but he likes to sit with us and hang around us. He really likes sitting next to Sky and leaning on her. I think he just likes being around adults whom he doesn’t have to be afraid of. There is no one for me to complain to, and, if I did, nothing would happen, except I’d probably earn the boy another beating or worse. So, I give him what I can—treat his cold when he has a cold, treat his wounds when he gets them, and let him spend time with us to show him that people can choose to be kind. And to honor his choice to be a kind person.

I’ve never seen him raise a hand in anger, and, although shooting birds with slingshots here is a popular pastime for young boys, he is the only child I have met here who collected one of the birds whose wing got a compound fracture from someone’s rock and put a bandaid over it and put it in a nest he made for it in a small piece of Tupperware.

He brought it to us, and we had to put it down (it was in a lot of pain and very weak by then). And all I can think of is that some people who are abused become abusers, but I think this little boy empathized with the bird. He knows the fear and humiliation and pain of being beaten and tormented by a much larger and more powerful creature, and he chose to be kind to the bird instead of making himself feel powerful by torturing it. That is miraculous to me—the choice to be kind in such adverse circumstances. Would any of us in his position be able to do the same?

2500 years ago, the Greek philosopher and Sophist Protagoras said that ‘Man is the measure of all things.’ If aliens ever visit earth, how will they judge us as a species? By our weapons and technologies? Our medicine? Our art, politics, or philosophy?

I always prefer to think that a truly advanced race would judge us by our conduct toward each other.

In times of such cynicism, when human greed and suffering afflict so many people, it is people like that little boy, who make the choice to be kind, that help me continue to believe that ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’

In a country of broken dreams and lives, kindness can still exist in an abused boy all alone in the world. He is another face I’ll carry with me forever, and he is worth fighting for.

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