Abstract Tragedies

There’s a reason the death of a million is just a statistic: it becomes abstract, a number of bodies. I don’t pretent that it’s any different for a smaller number either though. If I don’t know you, chances are I won’t honestly care if you die. Sure I can empathize, but it seems like a(n insincere) waste to do that with or for perfect strangers. Definitely a waste to put energy into displaying that (supposed) grief for others to look on at.

I was watching the Breaking Bad marathon AMC ran back in December (of 2013), and I got to the episode centering around the plane crash that Walter and Jesse inadvertently caused. I saw it once before, when they had the marathon leading up to the final episode, and I’ve got to tell you… the scene at the high school pisses me off every time I see it. That schools actually do this sort of thing, enough that its portrayal on t.v. is fairly true to reality… that’s something I don’t much care for.

What occurs in the scene I’m talking about, and what it specifically illustrates, that’s what really gets me. The first kid is about as traumatized as you should realistically expect: fairly unaffected, bringing up college suicides and roomates getting automatic A’s when they happen, hoping against hope that maybe they’ll take his comparison and apply the tenuous parallel. That right there shows the reality of what these tragedies are in the abstract: people don’t really give a damn. Here’s my question:

Why should they?

Then comes the second kid, talking about how she doesn’t understand why god lets things like that happen, saying that she’s had trouble sleeping, asking if others have had that problem and (worse) getting nods of agreement from students in the crowd. This is where I literally started rolling my eyes.

Why should a plane crash – high death toll or not – be a traumatic experience for high school kids? Even if something happened in the same town, where’s the direct connection that dictates a collective mourning session? If any students need individual counseling because a relative (or friend) died, then that’s understandable I guess. I can even understand a kid feeling a little disturbed by it… you know, if there were body parts strewn all over their front lawn. But…

Why does everyone else need to put on their sad face?

Pretending that they’re sad makes no sense to me at all, and the same goes for someone that genuinely feels it… I don’t get it. Seems to me the only reason anyone would get that way in a real sense, emotionally traumatized by something that’s had no real affect on them, is because of stupid ideas they’ve been fed and conditioned with. Who would any of those passengers have been to them? Probably a bunch of nobodies. If their names weren’t on a list of causalties for the news to report on, the high school students never would have known them.

Maybe it’s just me, but when people feel sad for the victims of a school shooting or “send their prayers” to the friends and family of those victims… it all seems like a big facade. I don’t know, maybe I really am alone in that, but to me… most of these people don’t know the victims, don’t know their friends, and don’t know their families. So there is essentially nothing for them to care about. It’s a social norm to be have a sense of tragedy, I understand that much.

What I fail to grasp though is why we’ve created such a strange norm.
It just doesn’t strike me as very sincere.

Why is that normal?

The death of one is a tragedy because you can put a face to it, a name, people can relate, but even that seems strange to me if you don’t know the person. Lacking any shared experiences, memories, personal interactions… Maybe the odd moment here and there throughout the years, imagining that it was your loved one or friend that had been killed… but I don’t see why that’s the expected default reaction. Why is that considered more “human” than my lack of reaction?

Speaking as one myself, as a human being, it seems more authentic and honest to care about things that actually impact me and my own. That are closer to home. Certainly better than pretending to care about strangers and wasting emotional energy (or whatever energy and effort play acting takes) on the abstract tragedies involving them. Maybe I’m just a little bit more sociopathic than I thought, but I can’t help but wonder if people aren’t secretly more like me.

That’s the humanity I personify, and I believe it’s the more accurate version. It hides beneath the surface of all the fake compassion and empathy we try to fill our world with. No matter how many layers of bullshit you try to cover it with… there it is, right where it’ll always be.

Oh I know, I know…

Not the nicest person you’ve ever come across, am I.
The way I see it though, at least I’m honest with myself.

Are you?

I wonder.


8 thoughts on “Abstract Tragedies

  1. I read this with interest. I can honestly say I do feel genuine empathy for people who are effected by a tragedy, on a large or small scale.
    I never pretend to feel anything. If something resonates with me, then it just happens.
    I do not need to personally know someone to identify with their pain, to empathise with them. As a fellow human being, who has experienced pain and loss in my life, I automatically feel honest sympathy for them.
    I think people who do display their empathy by sending condolences do it from a true and honest place inside, with the hope and intention of offering some small level of support or comfort to the bereaved.
    And hey! I’m sure you are a perfectly nice person by the way! We are all just wired differently I guess?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect that’s going to be the consensus, tbh, I just wonder sometimes at just *how* different. It’s interesting to explore. I was reading through your posts and saw one that really captures something that might be along the lines of my… well, I’ll call ’em my sociopathic tendencies.

      “I look at her and feel… nothing. I see a perfectly cute dog, but that is where my feelings end.

      No wait, I tell a lie…

      To be brutally honest, my most common feeling towards Poppy is annoyance.”

      I liked this, because that’s another way of how I’d put it for the things I don’t have any love (or real feelings) for. I watch a news report on the latest school shooting and feel… nothing. I see a perfectly tragic shooting, but that’s where my feelings end. Except for occasionally feeling annoyed by it.

      You feel that way toward the dog, and I feel that way about most people. Except that I don’t wonder if I’ll ever feel differently. I wonder if others feel the same… and really it seems to be a mixed answer. A yes and a no. You seem to know it, in your own way, and I in mine.

      Wired the same in what we’re capable of not feeling towards something that most would say *does* incites a feeling (whether puppy love or horror/sadness), but wired differently in that this emotional disconnect applies to different things.

      lol, sorry about the lengthy response. Just kind of thinking it out as I write it. Thank you for commenting 🙂 .

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like a good response! Thank you.
        The dog came with a lot of other baggage at the time and she represented a lotion other things going wrong in my life.
        I hope this doesn’t disappoint you… but I’m madly in love with her now! Goes to show how things can change, doesn’t it?
        Do you believe you have sociopathic tendencies? Or are you maybe scared to feel things? Just curious. Perhaps you shut off emotions that are difficult? I don’t know you so I’m just asking. I hope you don’t take offence. It’s a subject I find very interesting having studied psychology.

        Liked by 1 person

    • “I hope this doesn’t disappoint you… but I’m madly in love with her now! Goes to show how things can change, doesn’t it?”

      Eh, I don’t think it takes away from what I was trying to get across. It’s not (always) a permanent lack of feeling, to my way of thinking. Sometimes feelings can grow in places where there weren’t any before. That applies to me to sometimes.

      “Do you believe you have sociopathic tendencies? Or are you maybe scared to feel things? Just curious. Perhaps you shut off emotions that are difficult?”

      I’d say a little of all of the above. I have definite sociopathic tendencies, and while I’m aware and considerate of most peoples feelings, I don’t really care about them most of the time. My consideration is more a habit, a sincere but unemotive behavior. Manners make life more efficient, I’d say.

      Being afraid of feelings *has* happened, probably will happen again, but in a general sense I take a lot of pride in not being afraid to feel. I may or may not look at a feeling as something to share, but I’m almost always keenly aware of how I feel, and generally have no problem with being honest with myself about it. Shutting them off…? From time to time. I know I’m capable of it, but I’m also aware of when I’m doing it, existing outside of it to function. It’s a fairly rare experience, and when it occurs it usually drives me crazy until I manage to fully process and come to terms with it.

      I think my outlook on abstract tragedies is a good case in point, actually, of knowing how I feel and owning it. I’d be surprised if this was a popular outlook, but it’s mine all the same. A small window into a facet of who I am.

      “I don’t know you so I’m just asking. I hope you don’t take offence.”

      No offense taken 😉 . I may regard introspection as largely a waste of time, but it’s also in my nature and something I’m maddeningly well-versed in. Your questions are just an opportunity to indulge in it a bit 🙂 .

      Liked by 1 person

      • Introspection is never a waste of time I think! I too am very prone to it.
        I really like that you take time to reply to my comments in such detail.
        I am sure I’ll be leaving more on future posts and probably probing and causing you further introspection! It’s what I do!


  2. I think this custom response could have a bunch of reasons, really. First off, there’s the genuine empathy; but it’s quite rare and hard to comprehend, as you’ve mentioned. Maybe the event reminded them of someone? Maybe they’ve been through something similar, know what it’s like, and hope to provide support. Or they could just have an advanced sense of humanity that makes it easier for them.
    It could also just be that we’d learned it from our elders, and they from theirs (and on with the history..) back to when communities were closely united; unlike our detached way of life nowadays. Back then, news was hard to reach, and any tragic occurrences had something to do with people you knew closely; so the reaction was genuine. We grew up watching their reactions, and so we practice it as the most appropriate thing to do.
    Then again, it may have something to do with our sense of identity; we naturally feel more grieved when we hear news of children or of our countrymen than we would other people. Here it also probably depends on what caused the tragedy; shootings, for example, are further from being “abstract” because of the rage it instills in us. War, too, causes a lot of abstract deaths because of our “they’re the bad guys” mindset, though they may have been mere innocents.
    And finally, there’s the “oh gosh, that could have been me” reaction. Well, you could say they should rejoice then, but that would obviously be the wrong thing to do; so people try masking it with empathy.
    Sorry for the really long comment, ahaha. Your post just got my thoughts rolling!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No need to apologize for the length haha, I do that all the time 🙂 . There are definitely a lot of different variables to factor in, trying to figure out how much we really feel over the deaths of others… And given the individual differences between all of us, our intrinsic qualities (nature) and personal experiences (nurture), for most people it’s probably a messy mixture of all of the stuff you mentioned. Plus or minus a few of the vairables and more or less ofeach, depending on the person.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s