The question of whether human beings as creatures are naturally peaceful (a condition interrupted by war) or naturally aggressive (a condition interrupted by peace) is centuries old – perhaps millennia old.
Either way, lots of us will agree that peace is worth fighting for. That’s what seems to be happening in Ukraine, a nation which was attacked by a neighbour and which is now, as we can see for ourselves from any kind of outlet you trust, fighting for its collective life and existence.
We know that as people, we can be wonderfully kind and horribly cruel – sometimes on the same day, sometimes in the same sentence. But when that happens, which of our true natures is in control – peace or aggression? And if it’s aggression, is there justification for it? Perhaps the better question is: what do we have to do to bring out the best in ourselves and in others?
Certainly we know that while the Pharisees of a time long before Jesus had more than 600 laws, Moses was given just 10 laws for his two tablets, and then Jesus himself – maybe thinking that even 10 is too much for people to remember – reduced that to two: love God and treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated.
Whatever the background, whatever the belief or code of ethics at work, time after time the people of Ireland have shown that they’ve remembered at least one of those two ‘golden rules’.
Throughout our history as a free state and before that as colonised nation, the people of Ireland have shown themselves to be generous and kind, of being capable of putting themselves in somebody else’s dire situation, and reaching out with help.
It’s not Ireland’s first time to answer directly the needs of Ukraine.
For the past week, people throughout Westmeath, Offaly and Meath have responded to the terrible plight of the people of Ukraine by donating food and clothes, by turning up at places where collection points are based and giving what they can.
It’s not Ireland’s first time to answer directly the needs of Ukraine. In 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion caused such misery and need, the Irish responded in the most direct way – by welcoming Ukraine children here, for treatment or holidays, or whatever was needed and could be provided.
From that disaster in eastern Europe which threatened all of us came the Chernobyl Children’s Project International organisation, founded by Adi Roche in 1991 (and re-named 12 years ago as just Chernobyl Children International) to give hope and help to children there, trying to build lives in the shadows of an avoidable nuclear catastrophe.
Today, the clarion call is even louder. We are told more than 1.3m Ukrainians are now refugees, being hosted in Poland and Romania as they flee war, or on their way to those and other countries seeking sanctuary. Our government has promised to take up to 20,000 refugees, our official 2% ‘allocation’ under European Union rules, but this could rise to 80,000.
Where these people will be housed is, of course, the key question given consecutive governments’ failure to address Ireland’s accommodation needs – a charge we make not on political grounds but on reality.
Right now, the fact is that the people of the Midlands and Ireland are responding with more than words. People are giving what they can and will give more as this horrible crime in Ukraine unfolds.
Whatever the true nature of mankind is, be it peace or aggression, the kindness and altruism of Irish people cannot be questioned. Our willingness to reach out to those in need and our swift understanding of the terrible predicaments facing people from other countries shows that, at least in Ireland, our inherent code of ethics is intact.
In our darkest moments, it’s worth remembering that.