Use Wind Storm to Empathize with Refugees

Use Wind Storm to Empathize with Refugees
wind storm

Photo: Democrat and Chronicle

A graduate of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, George Cassidy Payne  teaches philosophy at Finger Lakes imagesDTHQTTSICommunity College and is the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. 

Along with his contributions to Talker, the Messenger Post Newspapers also invited George to be a Guest Columnist. His most recent piece was Trump’s version of Christianity as a state religion is un-American, 3/2/17

Use Wind Storm to Empathize with Refugees

The philosopher William James once wrote: “Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.”

After wind gusts surpassed 80 mph on March 8th, downing trees and telephone lines, about 120,000 people in the Rochester area were left without power. Monroe County was the hardest hit county in western New York with concentrations of severe damage in the suburbs of Greece and Irondequoit. In the storm’s aftermath, people were forced to stay with friends and family, or find sanctuary in rec centers, hospitals, churches, and motels. It was one of the worst natural disasters to impact the region in 30 years.

At the risk of politicizing a tragedy, I think James’ observation is made even more salient when one considers the consequences of President Trump’s revamped travel ban. Greece, NY, the hardest hit community in our area, voted for Trump in November. 40.3% of Monroe County (128,871 voters) went to the polls for Trump. Will Trump supporters view this storm as an opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of the refugees banned by the president’s order? Obviously the two disasters are unique, but the experience of being stripped of basic amenities such as hot water, heat, and in some cases one’s home are similar enough to pave common ground towards mutual awareness and understanding.

Will Trump supporters in Monroe County come away from this unfortunate event with an increased capacity for empathy towards those who Trump has turned away? What if the local motels said no room here? What if the hospitals and community centers said go away? What if Sam’s Club or Home Depot refused to sell generators? That is the feeling of being turned away at the border or airport for no reason.


see Looking at refugees not as a technical problem but as a human experience

Needless to say, care should not start in the emergency room. It should not take a natural disaster to awaken people to the realization that refugees are not fleeing the safety and comfort of their homes by choice. It should not take a natural disaster at home to make people in western New York realize that we are all at the mercy of forces beyond our control. But sometimes it does.

If a newfound sense of compassion for others is stimulated because of this storm, that is a very good outcome. Ultimately my hope is that people will come away from this disaster not only with a deeper sense of compassion for their own well being, but with a deeper resolve to help those who are less fortunate than themselves-and not only within their own families and neighborhoods, but for all refugees anywhere in the world.

George Cassidy Payne 


Looking at refugees not as a technical problem but as a human experience

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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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