In ancient times the stranger had an almost sacred status for various reasons that continue to be probed by historians and anthropologists.
Someone stumbling into a village or settlement, obviously from afar and not speaking the local language might be anyone — even a divine or threatening presence — but was regardless provided with food and shelter.
Our ancestors also had another good reason to give the stranger aid; they knew that a moment’s notice they could be next, forced into exile and in need of the help they were once willing to give.
The debate around how to help Syrian refugees, fleeing a vicious civil war and expanding Islamic State terrorism, has become something of a political football in Canada.
It’s to be expected that various parties during the election would make various claims on the best approach.
But this is a matter, to recall to our ancient forbears, beyond politics. The publication of the photo that went around the world — that of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi — is ample evidence of that.
Canada, not its politicians, needs to respond in a way that allows us to alleviate as much suffering as possible arising from this tragedy in Syria.
Canadians are compassionate people and there is ample precedent for helping those in need. We need only recall when in the 1980s thousands of Vietnamese ‘boat people’ were taken in by this country.
Compassion has to supersede politics in this matter but other questions arise of Canadians wanting to respond.
While dramatic and serious events like the Syrian crisis are few and far between, there is no lack of other events seeking our charitable response.
But when the hype dies down, the trick is to remember our long-term commitments to both global and local issues, whether they’re glamorous or not.
We are limited in what we can do, but the key is to act with compassion and empathy when we can, and leave the politics to the politicians.