Filtered News and Compartmentalized Compassion

The horrific, deadly flooding in Japan, not widely reported in Western media yet (it seems to me), is a nightmare of epic proportions. Two million people have been ordered to evacuate in western Japan. Hiroshima has been hit hard by flooding and landslides caused by extraordinary volumes of rainwater. “We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before,” a weather official was reported by BBC to have said. Sixty people are dead and dozens are missing. The numbers must be too small for most media to consider it newsworthy.

What captured the world’s attention, though, is the plight of twelve boys and their soccer coach, trapped for more than two weeks in a flooded cave in Thailand. And I understand that focus of attention. I’m just as concerned about that as anyone outside the immediate sphere of family and friends and countrymen can be. But are we incapable of being empathetic across a broader range of tragedies? There are so many from which to choose our “favorite:” wild fires, landslides, floods, violent demonstrations, fascism catching the imagination of world leaders everywhere…

I can control only my own little piece of mental real estate. I can express my solidarity with people undergoing heartache and horrors, regardless of whether others do the same. But the sense of helplessness I feel makes my expression of concern seem useless and unnecessary. “So what, you’re upset by people dying in floodwaters in Japan, what are going to do about it?” Nothing. There’s nothing I can do. I can only watch in horror and appreciate that, at least in Japan, the government seems to be trying to rescue people and protect people and property.

Bits and pieces of news I’ve seen suggests strangers are helping strangers in Japan. But that’s nothing new; it happens all the time. We don’t necessarily see it and the scale of assistance is not necessarily so dramatic, but it happens. I have taken, of late, to look for it. I consciously look out for people doing little things for strangers. You know, like picking up a piece of fruit someone drops at the grocery store. Or rushing after someone who left a purse or a wallet in a restaurant. Or helping an elderly person get across a busy intersection. Such things make the paper only when they are a bit “bigger” in that they take a tad more effort: a group of folks paint an injured person’s house; pulling someone out of a burning car. That last one is not just “nice.” It’s a risky life-saving endeavor. I’m happy when I read about such things. I wonder if I’d have the courage to do it? Would I risk my life to do it? Or, rather, would I risk utterly destroying my wife’s happiness by doing something that could kill me? Questions that have no answers, at least none that can be believed, until tested against reality. I’d rather not, thanks.

I guess my mind is awash in confused hurt with all the terrible things going on, every day, in the world. We’re not necessarily embroiled in more tragedy today than in other times, but we know about the tragedies more immediately. Except in the case of the Japanese flooding and mudslides, about which I found nothing this morning on CNN, NPR, Associated Press, or Fox News (yes, I actually do look online at Fox News on occasion, just to see what swill they are throwing at their biased nemesis at the other end of the spectrum, CNN). I found information about the flooding on BBC. Nothing on Aljazeera, either. Oh, wait. It’s Japan. That’s an entirely different culture. Uh huh.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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