Ebola: A cause that can unite us

Whatever our individual belief systems, here is a cause that can unite us. Whatever our party affiliations, this can cause us to “reach across the aisle.” Whether or not we are religious, or believe in this life only or the next, this is a cause we can agree on, here and now. Conservative or liberal, right or left, theist or atheist, libertarian or green, male, female, gay, straight, we must surely admit our common interest. American or Saudi, Indian or Russian, Nigerian or Liberian, how can we dissent? If there is anything about the Ebola Virus that is beneficial, it must surely be this.

I saw the beginnings of this realization a few weeks ago, in an article in Slate magazine by writer Brian Palmer. Mr. Palmer there bemoaned the fact that so many of those treating Ebola victims in Africa were, to his admitted discomfort, Christian missionaries. He reported that he was glad they did it, but he was troubled by their motivations and wondered about their skill. He finally concluded that the world needed them and we might as well let them get on with it. In the comments, he was roundly condemned by believer and atheist alike. Perhaps he had never heard the maxim, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But “bless his heart,” he at least conceded the point.

Frankly, I don’t care what you believe when it comes to finding constructive solutions to this current epidemic. When we are faced with dangerous events in the world, we have to unite. Whoever ends up treating Ebola victims, I’m confident that they will happily use a drug developed by an atheist, or a vaccine discovered by a Hindu. We’ll all gladly work with side-by-side with Taoists or Bahai, with Sikhs or Yazidi. If things are bad enough, Communist and Libertarian might actually save lives, or do critical research, together. For all we know, Democrats and Republicans might even work hand in hand. (Hey, miracles happen you know!) And it is my hope that we’ll all be hoping, or praying, with the same fervor for the mess to be over.

I hope that somewhere, Buddhist monks are praying for the suffering even as Catholic nuns do the same. I hope that in budget meetings worldwide, wise leaders of all races and nations are trying to figure out how much money they can commit to the fight, with the same fervor they would approach arms purchases. And I hope that Muslim scientists and physicians, and maybe even terrorists, are thinking that this might be a really, really good cause for Jihad. Jihad against Ebola! That’s a Jihad we can all agree on, can’t we? (What a PR opportunity for oil-rich nations Islamic nations, too!)

Perhaps this has the potential to rally our common humanity. Maybe, if only for a while, an epidemic could make everyone think less of war, less of conquest and political maneuvering, and more about issues as fundamental as the health of their citizens, the futures of their children.

Sadly, humans are humans. We are violent and we are greedy, and we care all too little about people who are different, people who believe or look differently from us. But now and then, in the midst of difficulty, we can rise above our darker natures. We can rescue those ravaged by storms. We can feed those crushed by famine. We can liberate those oppressed by the tyranny of wicked men; or deadly illnesses.

It sure would be nice if we could see, in the misery and suffering of Ebola, a ray of light, shining out of our common cooperation and our shared humanity.

If that happens, then maybe something magnificent will have been born out of so much misery.

How ironic it would be if, in the face of so many problems the world faces, it finally took a bizarre virus from the edges of civilization to make us act as one.

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of The Practice Test and Life in Emergistan

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