Commentary: Yes, I am my brother’s keeper – and much more

By Dr. Gary Welton

For the first time in our lives, we have experienced a universal international event, known as COVID-19.

The World Series doesn’t come close to being a global event. The World Cup and the Olympics are much more global, but even these events bypass certain parts of the globe (and many around us have no interest in these sporting events).

All of us, however, have been impacted by COVID-19. We have all, at times, been wearing masks, monitoring our social distancing, and discussing the pros and cons of various treatments and vaccines.

This pandemic has wrought tragedy in so many ways. We have seen more than 6 million COVID deaths across the globe, with a disproportionate number in the United States, where we are approaching 1 million deaths.

In addition, there was a surge in alcohol-related deaths in 2020. We have seen heightened levels of anxiety and depression associated with the social distancing, an increased sense of vulnerability, and a loss of perceived control. This has occurred in conjunction with issues of social justice, an opioid crisis, and Putin’s attack on the country of Ukraine.

It is certainly a troubling time to be alive, yet my mother always said that above every cloud, the sun shines. Where can I find that silver lining?

Data collected from individuals in about 150 countries through the Gallup World Poll, and summarized by the World Happiness Report, provides an answer to this question.

In at least one way, we have changed for the better.

This survey, conducted annually since 2006, includes three questions about altruistic behavior. Respondents are asked to indicate their behavior in donating to charity, helping a stranger, and volunteering.

Answers to all three questions, across every part of the globe, increased by about 25%. During these challenging times, we have become less self-focused, and behaved in ways that showed more love and concern for others.

I have observed such behavior as I saw people donating their stimulus checks to those who needed the money more than they did. I have seen offering numbers within my local church and across my denomination increase in unexpected ways.

This survey indicates that we have become more willing, not only to help our brother, but also to help strangers.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper, but also, “we are the world,” and we have indicated that our concerns and behaviors have broadened to the helping of strangers at this difficult time.

Now, as we are anticipating yet another COVID wave in the United States, based on increases across Europe and in certain parts of Asia, and as we see inflation approaching 10%, we realize that our struggles pale in comparison to the citizens of Ukraine.

European countries in general, and Poland in particular, have risen to the challenge, welcoming refugees by the hundreds of thousands, even by the millions, demonstrating that not only are we our brother’s keeper, but we are also a keeper of the strangers across the globe.

The COVID years have been a deadly era, and I speak as one who lost a close family member, and as one who grieves with students, classmates, church colleagues, and many friends. In comparison, the Ukraine invasion has totally disrupted the lives of an entire region of Europe.

This is an era that will live in infamy.

Yet, there is a silver lining. If we respond by reducing our radical individualism, to demonstrate more concern for our brothers, our neighbors, and the strangers around the world, there will be a lasting positive impact, in the midst of human tragedy.

Let’s all accept this challenge.

– Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to the Institute for Faith & Freedom. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.