It's been an interesting -- if not completely depressing -- news week so far, with corresponding reactions that have me thinking a lot about the way we all ration out empathy. With the tragedy in Norway, and the soon-following death of Amy Winehouse, it's become more apparent how we all tend to pick and choose the recipients of our sympathies, or withholding thereof.
It's as if we all have a bag of empathy chips. We think the chips are limited, so we look for any excuse not to give one out. Any cyclist can recognize this theory every time we read about another cyclist being killed by a car. No matter how horrific the hit, you will always see it written if they were not wearing a helmet as if helmets are made of magic foam that could save the cyclist's life no matter the situation. Then the comment section will slide into an endless stream of variations on the same "thats what you get for not wearing a helmet and/or riding in the street" idea.
I can understand why people hold onto these chips, as it's our way to make sense out of a senseless world. We all scan the article titled "Man Dies at 35" looking for that out. The fact that not only saves us a chip, but saves our mind from worrying that we could be next. Oh, right here. Smoker with Diabetes and an alcohol problem, duh. Put that chip back in the bag for another day. In doing so we get to sleep another sound evening without the worry of suffering the same fate.
With the tragedy in Norway and the death of Amy Winehouse, I've noticed an empathy battle quietly erupting. First it was the pro-active expression of individuals about how much they don't care that Amy Winehouse died. For me, personally, I've never really listened to much more than her hits, and have definitely winced at a few concert failures on Youtube. Basically, I was never really a fan or a hater. Her death was not shocking but still sad, as deaths of addicts usually are. Losing control to the most extreme outcome will always be sad to me no matter who it is. But to actively express how much you don't care seems counterproductive to what I think we are supposed to be doing with our time on this planet.
The second thing I noticed happening was the complaining that her death had somehow taken the focus off of Norway. Don't get me wrong about my feelings of Norway -- the whole entire story is so hellish and depressing and sad. But before it happened, I couldn't point out Oslo on an unmarked map and had never heard of Utoeya Island. It resonates for obvious reasons but before it happened, I knew almost nothing about the people and places involved. It doesn't lighten the feeling, but it does explain a bit why it shares a news billing with Amy Winehouse, someone whose career and music many people have followed and felt attached too.
I'm just wondering out loud if maybe we all need to re-evaluate our bag of empathetic chips. Maybe it's time to recognize that when the bag is limitless the love is pure. Who are we to pick and choose our sympathies? Every last one of us is going to join them eventually, so maybe it's time to drop judgement on death and let it pass with the understanding that although you might not care, someone does. I agree that life is scary enough without also worrying that you could die the same death you read in the news, but that shouldn't be an excuse to negate the death. Instead, think about letting it be an invitation to further enjoy life.