It seems as if every time I watch the news, the report is never a good one.
On June 10th, 2014, 15-year-old, Jared Padgett, opened fire in his Oregon high school, killing one of his classmates before he turned the gun on himself (“Shooting”). On May 23rd, 2014, Eliot Rodger went on a rampage in Isla Vista, California killing seven innocent people before killing himself (“Los Angeles”). On the night of April 14th, 2014, 276 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their school and forced to live a life that they would never choose (“Chibok”). A list of tragedies like these, from this year alone, could go on forever. However, after only a few weeks, these stories that at one point shocked and disturbed the world are no longer on our radar. As if they didn’t even happen.
Even though the girls are still missing, the families of the victims of the school shootings are still suffering, and the problems that caused these tragedies still exit, there is little to no media coverage on these events. News channels stop covering these stories because people stop caring. From a business point of view, if a network wasted airtime on something people wouldn’t watch, they would lose viewers and therefore money. So why air the story if people no longer care?
Reflecting on this idea of disregard we have for some of these tragedies, I realized that I too am guilty of this. When the story of the stolen girls and the various school shootings broke, I felt extremely sorry for all of the victims. However, it wasn’t until I began writing this blog post that I really thought about these incidents again. We all are distracted with our own lives and our own problems and since many of these stories don’t directly affect us, we focus mainly on our own lives. Therefore, its not that we don’t care, its that we are allowed not to.
The families of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria don’t have this option to ignore the tragedy, nor do the families who lost their children in the Isla Vista.
Although these tragedies don’t directly affect us, they do indirectly affect us. These stories all point to bigger issues in America, and in the world like mental health care, gun control, how we regard other cultures, gender equality, sexism and many others. Sadly, by simply letting these stories fall off of our radar, we don’t combat these bigger issues. We simply allow something like it to happen again.
After the research that I’ve done in CTW’s 1 and 2, I see that this luxury to forget comes from three things that happen to cause one another: a lack of transparency within these stories, our own selfishness, and our disconnection to other human beings who seem “different”. In “Eating Animals”, a novel that explores factory farming, the self-proclaimed “occasional vegetarian” (“The Distance Between Us.”) Jonathan Safran Foer, talks about how the lack of transparency within America’s factory farming industry. It allows many Americans to ignore the cruel and hazardous practices of this industry. Just as the lack of transparency allows us to ignore what companies like Purdue farms and Tyson chicken are doing to the poultry they give to us, it also allows us to ignore these stories. I feel as if after a while of hearing about the tragedy, we start to feel powerless. We get a sense that there is nothing we can do to change the situation because there is nothing that we can immediately do to help, change, or fix the situation.
So we continue on with our lives.
We listen to the stories on the 10 o’clock news and it doesn’t bother us when people no longer care to hear any updates about the stories. An “out of sight, out of mind” mentality takes over, but sadly this mentality leads to a more selfish outlook on life. In a talk by the famous writer David Foster Wallace, Wallace addresses the self-centered view that many of us have of the world around us and the tiny, annoying details of our lives sometimes seem like the biggest and only problems in the world. When describing a hypothetical, mundane scene in a grocery store, Wallace says that, maybe “[everyone in this check-out line] is just as bored and frustrated as I am and that some of these people probably have much harder, painful, and tedious lives than I do” (Wallace).
Wallace wants us to understand that we are not the “center of the universe”(Wallace). We live in a world of over 7 billion people. There is no way that only one story matters. Wallace isn’t saying that your story doesn’t matter, but instead that we should take into account that there are 7 billion other stories out there and that every single one of them is valuable.
By only looking at our problems, we separate ourselves from those who are five billion feet away from us as well as those who are just five feet away. Often, in order to make it easier to ignore the tragedies and the problems around us, we use our differences to separate us. Things like “thankfully it wasn’t me” and “luckily, no one I know was hurt” often get thrown around. In “On Being an Octopus” by Peter Godfrey-Smith, we see that its easier to write off someone who you might this is completely different that you than to take the time and try to understand that other human being, but that the difficult task of trying to understand someone is “one worth undertaking” (Godfrey-Smith 3).
I think we often forget about our innate human connection. Just because the Nigerian girls who were stolen and the boy who was killed in the Oregon high school shooting were not necessarily your daughters or your son, they are someone else’s. Someone who doesn’t necessarily look like you but just like you, is a human being. We need to understand that as humans, we are connected, and peoples problem, the problems and tragedies we see on the news, are never their own. They always speak to bigger issues in society and that together, with compassion and by caring, we can combat the problems facing our future.