The Stories of the Suffering People Around Us

Several weeks ago, a youtube video of a homeless man named Ted Williams with a “godgiven gift of voice” had an extraordinary result. The video quickly went viral and more than 3 million people watched it. As a result, Williams became an overnight sensation and, after an appearance on the Today Show, was offered numerous jobs.

Commenting on the impact of the video, an America editor writes in the current issues of that magazine:

It is admirable that Ameircans rush to respond to an individual’s need when they know his story. It is too bad the the millions of other hard-luck tales – of missed opportunities, fractured childhoods, substance abuse and mental illness – that tell the indiviudal stories ofthe nation’s poor and suffering people cannot likewise be uploaded to YouTube. Maybe if we knew the stories of more hurting people – even those who are not as talented as Mr. WIlliams – we would not dismiss our responsiblity to them so easily.

My first reaction when I read that was to think: OK, what can we do to put a face on the suffering people around us? To depict, in the words of the America piece, “the individual humanity of suffering people among us.”

But then I stepped back and thought about the comment again. Is it really admirable that we need to know someone’s story before we are willing to help them? That it takes something like the Williams youtube to rally us to action?

Jesus saw people in need and he helped them. He didn’t ask for a CV first. He didn’t need to hear their particulars. Why do we?

By all means, let’s put up more Youtube videos if that will generate the response the Williams video did. But it seems to me that it is also worth reflecting on why we need something like that to act. Why isn’t the suffering face of our brother or sister enough?