02/29/2004: "Uncomfortably Numb"
|AMP|#160;|AMP|#160;Over the past couple of months I've started noticing something about myself. Generally, if I have a defined task that requires significant work, I'll be quite content to plug away at it until it comes to the point where mundane details are being ironed out. At that point, I start getting bored. It's at this point that I've discovered myself trying to keep my own attention by digesting constant feeds of information. I'll google information on whatever subject has been interesting me of late, read my e-mail, scan through the blogs I follow, or simply look through the news again to see what the latest from around the globe is. I'm an information glutton.
A large part of this gluttony is online news, my two main sources of which are The Globe and Mail and Google News Canada. One much less frequent and wholly unreliable source of news I sometimes get is the local paper. I haven't had a subscription to it myself for quite a number of years now, and since their online presence went to a subscription-only model, I've been denied access. Thus, the only way I read the local paper is if it shows up in the lunchroom. Somewhat frequently but unreliably it is left sitting around after lunch, so when I need to stretch my legs I take a walk and see if it's there, and what it has to say.
The other day the front section survived through the lunch hour without being recycled, so I managed to have a look through it. After I had finished my scanning of the news, I came away from it feeling... well, almost nothing. I had read about the human aftermath of the recent Moroccan earthquake, about a large and fatal tanker truck accident in Turkey, and scanned all the other doom-and-gloom headlines. After following the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for many months, keeping up-to-date on the state of the rebellion in Haiti, and merely skimming the daily reports of more death in Iraq, I realized: I'm almost entirely numb to it now.
I'm not sure if I ever had any true feelings when reading about tragedy overseas, but at this point in time I know that absolutely no feelings accompany the knowledge about these events. Another ferry accident, another earthquake, another suicide bomber... it's just words now. All human meaning has been totally lost. Having been bombarded with information on even just a small slice of all the tragedies deemed newsworthy worldwide, I simply do not have the capacity to care anymore. And that bothers me.
I believe that I know why I can no longer relate, empathize, sympathize, or care: there's too much. With the advent of the Internet, nobody needs to wait for the morning paper or the 6 o'clock news to see what's going on in the world, and what news they do get doesn't have to conveniently fit in a 3-page "World News" section of the local paper, or into a 6-minute segment on the news. The Internet allows you to keep digging, further and further. It is truly a bottomless pit of information and news. The problem is, I'm not a bottomless pit of compassion.
Humans are very flexible beings when it comes to emotions, so I am sure that with practice I could feel, and feel deeply, for every loss suffered around the world. Regrettably, I don't currently have the time, patience, or motivation to do so. And frankly, I'm not sure there is much benefit in my being deeply moved by human tragedy worldwide. Compassion has its place, but I doubt very much that its place is halfway around the world. A portion of it should be, but certainly not all of it.
I believe that a change for the better would be a reduction, if not full elimination, of global news feeds. Instead of filling your head with news of bad things happening around the world, one might have the headspace to start caring about local problems. How many times have you walked passed a homeless or destitute person in your own hometown? How many local charities have asked you for help? Even if you limit your compassion to your own city or town, you'll be stretched quite thin. However, if you aren't comparing local needs to the needs of those on another continent, you might feel like you can actually do something.
I also believe that local action would be infinitely more rewarding than any other act of charity, for the simple reasons that you can do it yourself, and you can see the end results. Instead of delegating a huge non-profit organization to go into Africa and help feed, clothe, and nourish children with whatever they can get with your money (after their overhead is paid), you can go right up to the front door of an organization and give them food, clothing, money, and immediately know that you have done some good, and exactly how much good at that. You can volunteer time at a blanket drive to help keep homeless people from freezing to death, or donate goods to a local thrift shop, or cook a meal for a family in need. It's direct, immediate gratification as opposed to blind, anonymous charity.
I'm not saying that nobody should care about what's happening worldwide. There is a great need for compassion across the world, unfortunately. All I'm saying is that my compassion has been stretched too thin for me to want to do any good, locally or globally. The only way I can see that changing is if I simply try to ignore the global situation for a while, and start helping out where I am right now, in my hometown. It's an unfortunate situation, granted, but that's where I am.
Of course, if this makes you want to sponsor a child or send blankets and basic hygiene supplies to someone overseas, please do so. There are a lot of worthy causes out there that I can't bring myself to care about right now.