United We Stand!

It’s been heartbreaking to watch the senseless war and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, especially as the situation grows more dire with each passing day.

Interestingly, it is often in times of despair, we see the greatest acts of courage and morality. While it has been difficult to witness the needless destruction of lives, homes and livelihoods, there is a glimmer of hope in how both individuals and organizations around the world have stood united against Russia’s unprovoked aggression and rallied to help the people of Ukraine.

This type of unity is hardly ever for certain. In an environment of increased individualism over the last decade and a resurgence in populist leaders globally, the physical and mental separation of two years of the global pandemic life has deepened our divisions and weakened our collective empathy. Recently, these developments reached a crisis point where our viewpoints have become so entrenched, and so polarized, that I’ve been losing faith that people can objectively agree upon what is morally right and wrong, even in the most basic examples.

And yet, the war in Ukraine has been a globally unifying event unlike anything we’ve seen in decades. Overnight, we have reset our collective moral compass and have clearly identified the moral side of the conflict. Perhaps more importantly, the crisis has shocked us out of our cynicism and replaced it with a deep sense of empathy and humanity.

During this time of great tragedy, it is inspiring to look to the people who go above and beyond for their fellow human beings:

  • The inspiring leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former actor and comedian who has only served in politics for three years. Zelenskyy has rejected multiple offers to evacuate from the country since the invasion began and puts his life on the line daily to stand with his people and defend his country. Just this past weekend, he walked the streets of Kyiv and visited wounded soldiers, inspiring his constituents to maintain their fierce resistance against a far more fortified opponent. Conversely, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who initiated the war, remains heavily guarded in an undisclosed location, hiding from his own people.

  • The thousands of Russian citizens who risked persecution to march in the streets in opposition of Putin’s war, and are trying to hold their government accountable at significant personal risk.

  • The heroic stories of ordinary citizens who put their lives at risk to help get people to safety both inside and outside of Ukraine. This includes renowned chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, who is currently in Poland helping to feed refugees arriving from Ukraine.

  • Citizens of countries such as Romania, Poland, Moldova, who are opening their homes to refugees and bringing them into their families. This generosity was exemplified by this now famous photo of baby gear at a Polish train station, left for parents crossing the border from Ukraine with children in their arms and little else.

  • Here in the U.S., many politicians from both parties speak in agreement on the crisis and finding bipartisan solutions. There is more unity on this issue than I’ve seen in American politics in recent memory.

  • Hundreds of companies have decided to pause operations in Russia or withdraw from the country entirely, essentially forcing Russia to sacrifice its economic future to continue its senseless war.

  • Russia’s aggression has accelerated the urgency to shift to sustainable energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Most of the largest oil exporting countries are led by authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, and many leaders are finally realizing the humanitarian consequences of doing business with, and enriching, these suppliers.

While I hope this war comes to a quick and peaceful end, I also simultaneously wish that the behavior changes that have emanated from this tragedy will not fade in the coming months or years. This rise in unity and empathy is exactly what’s needed to address the world’s most pressing problems. While Putin’s invasion is an atrocity, the world’s humane, unified and innovative response will hopefully serve as a building block for a more peaceful, tolerant and harmonious future.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Fred Rogers

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