The diplomacy of caring
October 18th, 2010

It’s such a simple thing, a blog post with space for comments. And yet it is also a remarkable opportunity.

The blog post I’m thinking of today was made about three weeks ago by an American helicopter pilot, CWO John Bockmann, who has been flying relief missions in Pakistan as part of the US response to the terrible floods there.

A retired Pakistani officer, Brig. FB Ali, read it on Pakistan’s Express Tribune blog, and quoted from it in a guest post on Col. Pat Lang’s blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis, today. Both are worth reading – but what’s most wonderful, as Brig Ali notes, is the outpouring of love and appreciation in the Comments section, both from individual Pakistanis and from Bockmann’s own family.

Bockmann writes:

I have learned in my time here that Pakistani people are truly gracious. Strangers have invited me for chai and conversation. Almost anyone will shake my hand and ask my name, inquire about my health and how I am getting along. Instead of a handshake at our first meeting, I have sometimes been embraced. “Strangers shake hands,” my new friend Mahmood explained, “but brothers hug each other.”

This warms my heart. My mission, our mission, is straightforward, noble, and good. I am deeply grateful to those who support us here, for we need all the help we can get in order to help those in need. I am honored to do this work. I feel at home here beyond anything I could have expected.

and

When I do return home, I will bring with me hundreds of pictures, dozens of journal entries, six duffel bags, and several recipes for local dishes that I have enjoyed, but I will also bring innumerable memories that I will treasure for life — memories of Pakistan and its people. They have surprised me with friendship. I hope that through our work of compassion we may surprise them with friendship as well.

I will let the comments of Abdullah and Mustafa stand for the many that were posted by Pakistanis in response:

God bless you and may you return home safe and sound . There is a lot in common and a lot to share between common people not only living in U.S and Pakistan but also between people living all over the world.

— Abdullah

and:

John, I’d like to personally thank you for your efforts and for giving your time for this cause. May Allah reward you and bless your family.

— Mustafa

Others wrote longer and more effusive comments, but in their simplicity those two capture the spirit of the whole.

And then John’s mother, deeply moved by the love shown her son by these people from a far-off country, wrote her own comment — which strikes closer to the heart than the best of diplomats easily can:

Thus shall it be between Christians and Muslims, your country and mine: despite the heartbreaking fractures, we shall become strong in all the weak places, and no government policies, no misguided violent people shall prevent it, because God wills it, whether we call him Allah or Jehovah, and we will it, with all our hearts. We shall support each other while respecting our differences.

I’m with FB Ali on this, and Pat Lang, and John Bockmann and his family, and all the many Pakistanis who responded.

More recently, John Bockmann wrote this comment on the whole exchange:

Amazing. I know the hearts of many Pakistanis now, but I am still surprised by their outpouring of warmth — especially in such hard times. I read all of the comments — the stories, the blessings, the frustrations — and I am increasingly convinced that international relations are effected more by common people like you and me than by politicians who may never get a chance to have tea and real conversation with “the other side”. I am so privileged to be so well loved while I am so far from home. God’s blessings on Pakistan and her people.

If you want to see Bockmann, Cpl. Jenie Fisher interviewed him earlier in the mission, and you can find those videos here. I hope she does a follow-up. I hope the press picks up on this. This is what’s best in our common humanity — hearts and minds – they’re not won, they open.

And this is what’s best about the internet — this possibility.

I’ll close with the words of Engineer Syed, who writes:

Ten people like the pilot who is in the picture in worlds each decision making cabinet-agency-organization etc can change the total scenario of the world


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