In response to a previously written post, titled “Stuck on Stupid”, one subscriber commented that the lack of empathy could be to blame for what, until now, I’ve perceived as open displays of stupidity. To quote, she said: “Funny business aside, I think there is also a severe lack of empathy going around. Some people aren’t that stupid, they just don’t care! It is just your problem after all. Why should they care?” While I maintain their separation, I agree that the increasing lack of empathy in our society is even more troubling than sub par intelligence. The responses following the unprecedented earthquake and tsunami in Japan present a remarkable opportunity for making this case.
Despite increased globalization, we remain worlds away in terms of our connectedness to people around the world. Events that occur in places as far away as Japan and Libya are told as effortlessly and casually as if they were happening right down the street. Before too long, we are bombarded with live, exclusive, and “raw” footage. Moreover, the delivery turns into a rapid-fire succession of image after image. It’s no wonder some folks are tuning out, and becoming desensitized in the process. Furthermore, reporters relate the news with such detachment, and seem to lack the emotional intelligence required to connect with the people most affected by the events in any meaningful way. You wonder if they are on autopilot as they segue into the next “breaking news” event, which may not even be news at all – could be a viewer-submitted video of a grandmother spraying a would-be robber in the eyes with her bottle of Charlie! It makes no difference, because it is all communicated with the same indifference, stoicism, and urgency.
I’ve got to believe that the viewer becomes overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and scope of the events themselves, and the visual display that accompanies such devastation. Despite our desire to do something, at some level, even the most empathetic among us feel that these problems are too big for our individual input to be impactful. History has informed us that there is power in numbers, so instead of going it alone, some of us align ourselves with any of several social, action-based, volunteer-driven organizations to make a greater impact. Some of us will act individually; we may write a check, give of our own resources, organize fundraisers, or partner informally with like-minded friends or family to raise awareness and do our small part.
Then there are those that will do absolutely nothing…no matter what…period. Let’s not be too quick to write them off as ne’er do wells , or as folk who weren’t raised as loving, compassionate children. Still, I don’t believe that these are necessarily bad people. I’m sure that their apathy isn’t as calculated as it seems. I think that their response or lack thereof, is complicated. They reserve the right to be as uninformed and disconnected as they want to be, and I don’t expect them to budge for anything. Their supremacist beliefs and ethnocentric POV is a current that is almost impossible to stem. Since I’m a believer that there’s more good in this Earth than there isn’t, I won’t occupy too much of my precious intellect on them. Certainly, there may be an economic component. Asking someone who is financially strapped, or can’t see their way to Monday, to give money may be asking a bit much. But what about those who have resources, yet remain apathetic? Could it be that they’ve become so as a result of repeated news cycles? Perhaps they’ve tuned out like the reporter? Or sadder yet, perhaps they don’t think it’s their problem. Could folks be that disconnected? Is it an issue of judgment, even? Does it have anything to do with what they feel is a “natural” order of things? By that, I mean do they believe that if this is God’s will, then they shouldn’t run interference? Undoubtedly, these catastrophic events are of “biblical proportions”, but there’s nothing “natural” about them. We don’t naturally conjure these occurrences. They are outside the realm of most of our thinking…I hope. Not even Stephen King could have whipped up this monster! Okay, the jury is still out on that one. :o But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the manifestation of these events is the fulfillment of prophecy. Is it okay to then sit back and watch your fellow-man pick up the pieces from the devastation, for which he isn’t directly responsible?
Sadly enough, I have heard several “faithful” people link world events to God’s displeasure about the practice of chosen faiths other than Christianity. At the end of the day, aren’t we all God’s children, belonging to one race, and when affected by disaster, don’t we have the same basic needs and wants for our families – food, clothing, shelter, safety, love, and compassion? These are clearly commonalities that define us all. So while I agree that the magnitude of events is startling, I also believe that we have the power to act in transformative ways that can ultimately bring relief to those that need it most. Whether it’s the neighbor facing foreclosure, a crisis called Katrina, harrowing hurricanes in Haiti, or a tumultuous tsunami in Japan, we have the ability to show empathy in ways great and small. The choice is ours.
We cannot respond to everything; however, we cannot become so disheartened that we become paralyzed or powerless, and do nothing. Purposeful or not, these events will challenge us on many levels, and bring our human limitations in fuller view, but we are more than our limitations, and as such, we cannot afford to take a backseat. Should disaster strike even closer to home, we may very well find ourselves wanting and waiting, hoping and praying, and certainly yearning for the empathy of our own neighbors…from a distance, far or near.
Are We A Nation, Sweet Honey In The Rock f/ Yonas
- How to Talk to Your Kids About the Disasters in Japan (GeekDad Weekly Rewind) (wired.com)
- Charities/ Fundraisers for Japan Relief