• Corporate Responsibility

    Someone once said that when a butterfly flutters its wings the whole world is affected. I guess that’s true, in an academic sort of way. Less academic if a tactical bomber flutters its wings. No man is an island.

    I went to a school production a week or two ago, called 90 Years of Broadway. It consisted of extracts from various Broadway musicals, and it covered the range — from the spiritual to the sentimental to the social to the trivial. It was a good night, full of songs I’ve whistled for years and some I scarcely know at all.

    One of the “scarcely know at all” items came from Miss Saigon. I’ve never seen Miss Saigon, and I’m only vaguely familiar with the story and a couple of the songs. I’m a little more familiar with the setting — I did my national military service at the height of the Viet Nam war, and I lived in anxiety for three or four years until it became clear that the New Zealand government was not about to send its national servicemen over there. Some years later, Forrest Gump gave me a visual picture of what I had been spared, and I was grateful all over again.

    But, Miss Saigon. The show comes directly out of the Viet Nam war, and the song I was offered at the high school show was “Bui-Doi”, inspired by the children born to mixed American/Vietnamese parentage during the years the American troops were stationed there. Largely, though not exclusively, their fathers were American soldiers and their mothers were Vietnamese prostitutes. Bui-doi literally means “dust of life”, or “living dust” and the song says of them:

    “They’re called Bui-Doi.
    The dust of life.
    conceived in hell,
    and born in strife.
    They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do.”

    Wait on — I was never a drunken soldier in a brothel. These are not my kids. “All the good we failed to do?” Well — yes, in a general sort of way. “We”, collectively, the world, couldn’t stop the Viet Nam war from happening, just as we couldn’t stop the Gulf War in 1991, or the attacks on Iraq or Afghanistan or on September 11, if it comes to that. Interpret “we” broadly enough and we, the human race, become responsible for a vast array of things that we are often content to allow “them” to take the rap over.

    “They” are a wonderful group of people. What they haven’t done to the world in one way or another scarcely bears thinking about. It’s easy to see where they’ve gone wrong in a hundred places; more than a hundred, and to blame them accordingly. Challengingly, though, Jesus didn’t often make it easy for us to go round blaming people. As a matter of fact he is on record as saying, quite disconcertingly, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” And in Viet Nam, circa 1975, there must have been a lot of terrified soldiers looking for some transitory comfort wherever they could find it, not to mention a lot of impoverished women looking for income and whatever security a war-torn community might provide, and placed in those situations at least in part through circumstances created by somebody else. And so the song becomes even more pointed when it goes on to say, of children who are an embarrassment to the world they are born into, “We can’t forget, must not forget, that they are all our children, too.”

    “No man is an island,” said John Donne. “Love your neighbour,” said Jesus. I don’t live in Viet Nam, though Kiwis are now commonly tourists there. What responsibility do we have for communities we visit? How do I express my responsibility for the community I do live in, seven days a week, full of people whose actions I may possibly deplore if I am allowed to think about “them”, but with whom I may be associated if I have to think about “us”?

    What does it mean, in my place, now, to be affected by the fluttering of the butterfly’s wings when Jesus tells me to love my neighbour rather than to judge him?

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