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. 😮 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
8 thoughts on “From A Distance”
I love this post because it touches on so many things I’ve thought of for years, wondered about, and talked about with friends and others. I think a big part of people’s lack of action is that they (we) feel like there’s so little we can do, and there are so many barriers between us and others we seek to help. I was TAing a college discussion section once, and we had been reading about revolutionary movements, and I asked my undergrad students why they’re not politically active the way students were in the 1960s. Their consensus was, “The movements of the 60s didn’t work. So we feel like there’s no point to trying to do the same thing.” Of course, a lot DID happen in the 60s! But there just seems to be such a pervasive sense of powerlessness among otherwise caring people. It makes sense; a lot of us don’t even feel like we have power in our own lives, let alone power to change others’.
Lisa, thanks for stopping by! Not only did a lot happen in the 60s, a lot also came out of those movements in the 60s. Those movements, as well as the several other quieter, less popular ones that preceded them, should give us courage, hope, and a reignition of sorts. The powerlessness that many of us feel is quite natural, as we are limited human beings; however, a fire takes but one spark! Perhaps approaching this with the goals of extending compassion, love, an embrace even, is a much simpler order than the notion of altogether changing the lives of others. The culmination of these simple acts is what will ultimately change the course of the lives of others. We should never underestimate the Power of One!
I think apathy comes from a sense of entitlement. When you get used to being among the “haves”, after so long you begin to think you’re there because you deserve to be there. You forget to consider the fact that you’ve done nothing to deserve it —That these things that you have, the places that you’ve been and returned home safely —they are blessings and nothing else. It’s sad to watch. One blond news reporter in particular, no matter how she tried, was so happy to be reporting the news, she couldn’t remove the condescending smirk from her face. Even while she reported the death toll, she couldn’t help smiling. It scared me.
Rena dear, I agree! Apathy is very well rooted in entitlement and individualism. Many well-to-do people attribute their success to their own actions. While success can be the result of choices made through the discernment of Spirit, it does not “land in our lap” because we are more worthy than anyone else. It is to be used as a vessel through which others may be blessed, and as an instrument for transformation. Sadly enough, it is my observation that many others with a lot less socioeconomically, have also grown apathetic, because they feel somehow, that they themselves are also suffering. As such, they grapple with the notion of availing themselves to others that oppressed.
I was saddened and shocked to see an anchor on a business news channel speak so carelessly about the loss of life in Japan and then go on to emphatically state that the good news is that the economy has not affected the U.S.’ and that oil has gone down so that was actually a benefit that we reaped….
Unfortunately, those who tout the word of God most don’t read it. And this nation had better wake up out of its selfish stupor and repent for our prideful arrogance, otherwise, woo unto us for real!
You’re preaching a word, Zakiya! Go tell it…over the hills and faraway! We definitely need not get too cocky and complacent in our thinking that as long as we’re not negatively impacted, that we’re okay. We’re hardly okay. When it is all said and done, it is our very souls that are in need of repair and renovation. The same word of God that people use to justify their intolerance is the same word that holds us accountable for being compassionate, merciful, and just.
Amen! Your words are a balm for my soul. My hope for the world is that we all understand that no soul is more important than another, and we see that we are all connected. What each of us feels, decides, and does, ripples out farther and effects more souls than many of us could ever imagine. What do we want those powerful ripples to do? Do we want to annihilate ourselves? Those of us who are not insane should want those ripples to carry our best intentions for peace, acceptance, and the good health of all. And we should want them to radiate our openness to accept the best from others.
How simple. Yet the fact that we humans as a race on earth, haven’t truly embraced our power for good, makes it clear that it isn’t.
I’m smiling, Ré. I did it! Inserted e with the accent! LOL! Really at a loss for words right now. The content was so concentrated when it was revealed to me. As time wore on, I still found it difficult to dilute the message. I suppose it is the message that God wanted to birth through me, so I am merely the messenger. I am touched that it has resonated with you at a personal level. 🙂 just reminded me to re-read article on dreams.