Thursday, September 8, 2005

Qualified compassion?

I talked a little about the social response to suffering in Katrina and other recent mass disasters:

Millions of people suffer from untreated disease, face hunger, and live with homelessness in the United States of American every single day. People tend to be more responsive to mass disasters which localize such suffering into a smaller window of time and space than to broadly dispersed and long term human tragedies. There are various explanations we can posit for this based in areas like studies of social psychology or cultural analyses of the affect of selective presentation in news coverage...

Let us certainly provide that help, but when the stories about Katrina begin to fade and the attention-span of the networks for the story wanes, let us remember the non-localized suffering spread throughout our communities all across the nation.

I have heard that some truly amazing people are making room in their homes for those displaced by the hurricane. I am in no way diminishing such great acts of compassion, but, would folks normally be willing to accept people in need into their homes? Is the level of our compassion tied in some way to the tragedy with which it is associated? If a man and his two daughters lost their apartment because the local mill closed, would someone two cities or two states away be willing to open their home for a month while he found work? Does it make a difference if he had his kids were recently rescued from the Superdome?

I know there are people who give all the time, and the Katrina response is just a continuation of the effort. I think that is seen in the eagerness of folks like firefighters, who regularly risk their lives helping their own communitues, to go down and try to save communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. But what about the rest of us? What is our excuse for ignoring suffering that doesn't come packaged in extensive news coverage, framed in terms like "one of the worst disasters ever", and whose relief work is advertised by everyone from former Presidents to pop culture icons? What about a local tragedy of two, of six, of a dozen, of one, happening daily without the 24 hour coverage or the manufactured media label ("9/11", "the Tsunami", "Katrina")?

1 comment:

  1. also nice blog found it while browsing around

    Perhaps it is the same reason why people dont eat meat if they see a slaughter house, but can if not

    distance or ignorance can help ignore or forget


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