Confusing guilt with empathy

Kapisa Province, Afghanistan -- I took this pic of an Afghan girl, standing outside of the Governor’s compound in Mahmood Raqi district. She was waiting patiently, hoping to receive some assistance from our team.

Kapisa Province, Afghanistan — I took this pic of an Afghan girl, standing outside of the Governor’s compound in Mahmood Raqi district.
She was waiting patiently, hoping to receive some assistance from our team.

I believe our country should make no excuses for our successes. We’ve worked hard to become the great nation we are, and have the scars and bumps to prove it. (Although, admittedly, some of us have worked harder than others.) While our history is certainly not squeaky clean, I think it’s safe to say that we have, for the most part, earned the “luxuries” we assume other countries envy us for. (Notice, I wrote “assumed.” It is arrogance on our part to assume other countries WANT to be like us. Many do not.)

Still, seeing others experiencing poverty has a humbling effect, no matter what hurdles you have overcome personally. It’s natural to feel empathy for those who are less fortunate than us. It’s also natural for us to want to do something to help.

Sometimes, while standing outside in the hot sun near the MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) I’ll drink a bottle of water. Occasionally, I’ll see the locals looking at me. I imagine they’re thinking: “I hope he gives me some water.” If I have some extra bottles, I will toss ‘em one.

But sometimes, I don’t have enough to give to everyone. Or, I may have enough, but I don’t want to give out any for fear of starting a small riot/stampede. (We are taught not to give out goodies without prior planning, as the locals may begin to fight/rush/trample each other.) So during those times, I’m faced with the awkward moment of seeing an Afghan SEEING ME drink water, and not offer him any.

It’s only happened to me a couple of times since I’ve been here in the ‘stan. The first time, I felt guilty, as if I was doing something wrong. I once tried to hide and drink my water out of sight of the locals, but then I felt stupid, because I had no reason to hide … I had not done anything wrong, and had nothing to feel guilty about.

I now believe it is empathy, not guilt that makes me feel weird when I’m unable to help an Afghan in need. It may be an internal mind game, but I’ve gotta do something, and NOT drinking is NOT an option!

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