2 JUNE 1961, Page 28

Pity a Human Face

Refugee World. By Robert Kee. (0.U.P., 15s.)

WHAT should we do about pity, that flow of selflessness, that desire to help and comfort round which several names cluster bin which none entirely covers—pity, love, charity; loving- kindness, agape?' To use a model, one can say that it is a flow (the milk of human kindness is, after all, another name) which apparently runs

apparently can be encouraged, checked or even

more liberally in some people than others, which L

atrophied. Without it, there can be-no happY marriage, no happy home and farbily, no friends. Some, it seems, cannot produce even this much pity, and some no more.

Bin if there is pity over and above the needs of the home circle, how, today, is it best channelled and made productive? How to choose between the many needs that all demand the response of pity?—the ill-treated children, the problem families, the South African negroes (and .other ncgroes too, and nearer home), the ten million people living in poverty in Britain, the unmarried mothers, the old, the lonely, the bedridden and still, increasingly, as Robert .Kee reminds us in his small book, refugees.

It is hardly possible to set priorities and often to do so is despicabk. To say 'Let's help our own people first' or 'It's only the children I really mind about' is to offer something less than pity. Of course it is true that some are easier to love than others; it is much nicer to adopt the pretty blue-eyed girl or the floppy-eared puppy than to call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind to the feast. It is only a sufficient flow of pity, overcoming what William James spoke of as 'instinctive repugnance,' that can enable us to attend to all the poor who are always with us.

But how? Money, we all know, is far from enough, though there is 'always far from enough -money. (It is good to learn, from Mr. Kee's book, that of the money collected for International Refugee Year,. one-quarter came from Britain; but it was only thirty million in all.) Kee suggests that as governments have gradually more and more assumed the duty of dispensing charitable help formerly given by individuals or private groups, so, to a far greater extent, must they do so in the future. Certainly his book sholks that without such official help, that given by indivi- duals may' be almost nugatory. Governments have, on the whole, done shamefully • little for refugees, but most shameful is the way they have closed their doors against them, unless they arc, each member- of a -family, as sure as formalities can make them, assets to the receiving country. This is not pity, but horse-trading. Moreover, there are many .factor,s today which militate against the development of attitudes Which could press governments to undertake a bounden duty of succouring all in need without distinction of 'anything, even frontiers. 'You owe yourself a mink coat,' scream the advertisers; 'you're someone when you-buy a new car.'•Weck by week the titled ladies send out embossed-invi- tations on which buying a chance to hobnob with names is called charity. The profitmongers have an uncanny nose for threats to the selfish self' engrossed world in which they can prosper. To overcome instinctive repugnance, said William James', would be `to be'born into another king- dom of being.' This would be death to the profit' mongers, who strain every nerve to prevent it.

Robert Kee's pitiful little book is a drop of feeling in an ocean of need, People who read it can hardly help but demand to know what we should do about pity.