In a moment of what must be unimaginable terror, it would seem trite to suggest that the people on board the Air Egypt flight in May 2016 or the Malaysian airline flight M17 in October 2015, thought about anything else other than those that they loved.
Yet from the safety of the ground we find ways to make the tragedy more comfortable.
“An Australian-British dual national was aboard the missing EgyptAir jetliner…” says the commentary of an online newspaper, with the headline “Australian dual national on missing aircraft”.
It is good to put a human face on tragedies like this, but when that one face is used to obscure the faces of 66 people falling to their death, there is a different tragedy occurring that needs to be talked about.
However, this article is not about the media, nor about the arbitrary brutality of war and acts of terror. This article is about our tendency to attribute importance based on how things affect us.
There is a level of selfishness that comes from using proximity as our gauge of importance. Yet we continue to see it in local, national and even world affairs.
Take for example, international aid efforts being based on the country’s perceived interest in their impact on their own citizens. Since 2014 the total number of deaths from Ebola has been 11,310 people. Governments from around the world have invested close to $3,611b for the response. No one would dispute the importance of this response, given the mobility of such an infectious disease. Yet compare this to Malaria, a disease that is less mobile and typically occurs in less affluent countries.
Malaria was responsible for 438,000 deaths in 2015 alone. With nearly half of the world population at risk of contracting Malaria, you would expect the global response to be equally proactive, yet in 2012 it received a total global response of $2.5B.
So even though the global death toll from malaria is 39 times the rate for Ebola, the funding from around the world is 1444 times less.
There is not much community or media attention to such a stark difference in the response; in fact there is a resounding silence. Could it be that we are only interested if the impacts are close to us?
It would seem that as long as ‘we are okay’, details like suffering half the way around the world are so easily skipped.
But this doesn’t just occur internationally.
We rightly celebrate a decline in the rates of death from cancer over recent years, but we have not noticed that the incidence of cancer is growing. Said another way, our dedicated medical community is succeeding in their treatments for cancer, which is worthy of appreciation, yet the work of the medical system is masking the fact that the way we are living is leading to an increase in the rates of cancer. So we are getting better at treatment but not at prevention.
It seems that reducing the likelihood of being affected by cancer, means we pay less attention to how we live.
On one level you can understand this as a defence mechanism that kicks. If we began to consider all that is really wrong with the world we could become overwhelmed. Yet ignoring it is the very thing that allows the state of the world to deteriorate in the way that it is.
Knights on white horses are not needed, nor is there a call to storm the Bastille and overthrow the government of the day. In many cases, all that is needed is a willingness to NOT look the other way and ask the questions about why this happens… then not look the other way when we get the answer.
There must be a level of fear of survival that drives us, if we are so easily pacified when our life becomes more comfortable. If we are so relieved by life working out for us, what is the feeling that lived underneath the relief, if not fear or our own survival and mortality?
So how do we give a damn without the overwhelm, how do we appreciate the lives we have and not tune out to the fact that others equal to us may not be living in the same degree of comfort. How do we avoid the trap of thinking we have to live in financial austerity to appease some inner moral guilt?
It sounds counterintuitive, even selfish, but the answer is ‘self love’.
The more we truly honour ourselves, the more abhorrent it becomes when you see others not being honoured.
The more you fill your cup from your own self-worth, the less you need other things or people
to fill it for you.
This reduces the consumerism and greed that enables much of the global suffering.
Without the fear of survival driving you, there is a steadiness and a willingness to look the world in the eye and say that we have it so very wrong. People can threaten or criticise you for taking a stand but they can’t take you away from you.