The Nothing People
The best and worst in people come out in times of disaster, calamities, and utmost grief or despair. People react differently to tragedy—but some do not react at all.
In my rushed trip from Batangas to Manila to escape Taal Volcano’s eruption last week, I was moved by how some people along the road extended help to motorists, such as giving pan de sal and sandwiches, or even pouring water on windshields to remove the ashfall.
The following day after the eruption, I received several calls from friends and relatives, both here and abroad, expressing sympathy and compassion, and offering whatever help they could give.
I directed them to evacuation centers and private homes that had opened their doors to evacuees, and there were many of these homes. Never mind the chaos, dirt and mess in their usually clean kitchens, salas and bathrooms, these Batangueños opened their homes to their kababayan-evacuees.
Until lately, there was also heavy traffic along passable roads in Batangas due to the number of people from different areas bringing in donations.
They came from various groups and sectors in Philippine society, ranging from big corporations to lowly neighborhoods in Malibay or Tondo—with no gimmick, no fanfare or publicity, just pure and plain expressions of concern and generosity toward their fellowmen.
But as the mayor of San Nicolas, Batangas, mentioned, let this not be like a town fiesta where houses are open even to strangers to partake of meals, then the charity stops the day after.
The real test of genuine generosity and concern for our fellowmen will be after a couple of weeks or even months, when the trend and rush of giving and helping wanes.
On the other hand, there were looters and thieves who took advantage of the disaster and stole appliances, jewelry, pigs, chickens and cows in abandoned areas and deserted homes.
There were swindlers who opened and advertised accounts where people could deposit money on the pretext of raising funds for the evacuees.
There were profiteers who doubled the prices of in-demand items like dust masks, or even extended loans to some evacuees who urgently needed cash, but then were charged unconscionable interests.
From these opposite responses the strength of character of people, either good or bad, was tested and exhibited.
But what’s worse than these reactions is not reacting at all. These are the people who do not give a damn or are oblivious to the sufferings of their fellowmen, and simply go on with their “business as usual” routine.
They watch the news on television only for their information, to know what is going on, but are not moved by the unfolding tragic events. They read the newspapers but are not touched by the plight of people who are affected by the disaster. These are the “Nothing People,” who are best described in this poem:
“They do not lie,
they just neglect to tell the truth.
They do not take,
they simply cannot bring themselves to give.
They do not steal,
They will not rock the boat,
but did you ever see them pull an oar?
They will not pull you down, they’ll simply let you pull them up and let that pull you down
They do not hurt you,
they merely will not help you.
They do not hate you,
they merely cannot love you.
They will not burn you,
they’ll just fiddle while you burn.
They are The Nothing People
the sins of omission folk,
the neither good nor bad,
and therefore worse.
Because the good at least keep busy trying,
and the bad try just as hard.
Both have that character
that comes from caring, action and conviction.
So give me every time
an honest sinner, or even a saint,
But, God and Satan please get together
and protect me from The Nothing People.”
Victor T. Reyes is a lawyer who maintains a farmhouse in San Nicolas, Batangas, near Taal Volcano.
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