Someone fired into a crowd last weekend at a Denver rally, and a couple of people were shot. My first thought was, "Oh, no." My second thought was, "Oh, only two."
"Only" two? What scares me almost as much as the idea of people shooting randomly into crowds is that I could, for even a moment, mentally shrug off the lives of two human beings as "only" two, as if they didn't matter so much because they weren't among hoards shot in a mass killing or killed or wounded in an explosion.
Later I read headlines about a serious earthquake in China and a building collapse in Bangladesh, and I found myself pointedly not reading the articles, largely because China and Bangladesh have no personal meaning to my life. But the Boston Marathon bombing and the explosion near Waco—well, I paid attention. They seemed more important because I know a lot of runners, and I've been to both Boston and Texas.
I'm not an uncaring person, but in the face of so many disasters plastered all over newspapers and television and computer screens, I find myself picking and choosing the ones to pay attention to. How many others find themselves, like me, choosing our levels of feeling? Two people shot? Is that worth our attention? Maybe not. Twenty-six injured in an auto pie-up? Well, maybe we should take a moment to feel some compassion. 120 killed? Definitely, yes, that merits our interest and outrage—as long a it's got some personal connection to our own lives.
Desensitization. I hate that in our world today we are barraged constantly, almost instanty, by images and accounts of horrible things happening to human beings. We manage psychic overload, I think, by moving tragic occurrences into categories: "semi-terrible," "truly terrible," "affects me personally in some way", etc. Maybe such categorization helps us survive, but it also diminishes us as human beings. I wish our world allowed us to feel compassion for every person, anywhere, who deserves care, attention, and help.