738 words — 4 minutes read

The threshold of caring

I haven’t watched much news lately. Yesterday was an exception. The pictures of destruction and death that I have so far been able to keep outside my attention have been haunting me since. I realize that I’m not capable of even trying to begin to understand what has happened. As the death toll rises, the pain and suffering becomes more and more abstract. We are hearing about 9 dead swiss citizens and as much time in the news is spent on them compared to the tens of thousands of natives that died or lost everything they have. The cynic in me tries to calculate the “importance” of a swiss citizen versus an indian, a tamil or a thai but gives up.

And then the news goes on, giving a retrospective of the year that passed. In Sudan, 60’000 people died in a so called civil war, 1.5 million refugees have also lost everything. The numbers are strikingly similar, but the coverage of the two events is so different.

Is it because one of the events is the doing of man, the other of nature?

Is a live lost to marauding, raping bands of fighters less worth than a live lost to the ocean?

Living in my sheltered existance, in a first world country I can fathom neither. However, the forces of nature I can cope with better. Each year several lives are lost in our mountains, most because the persons have been overestimating themselves and underestimating the mountain or the weather. Some are lost to avalanches. This happens. This always has happend. We are not the masters of earth and her forces. Earth shows us from time to time, who is ruling - and that’s fine by me. As a species we are so beyond care of our environment that a “gentle reminder” from the boss from time to time seems like a good thing.

“This species has amused itself to death” sings Roger Waters. Have we? I have switched off television after 15 minutes of tsunami coverage. I don’t want to feed my fears on these pictures. In a sense, this is way over my threshold of caring. I don’t want to care about the individual desasters that have happened. Is the father carrying his dead child any more worthy of my attention, than the woman who has lost 40 of her relatives? Is the swiss tourist in a hospital mildly complaing about not being treated correctly more worth than those who aren’t in hospital with their injuries? And what about those 100’000s that haven been featured in the news? My mind is hard at work, shielding me from all this. If I start caring about one person, I have to start caring about the next. And the next dozen. And the next hundred. The next thousand. And I am not capable of doing this. So I switch off the coverage. I can’t fathom it anyway. I remember the first sign stating 3000 dead in a flood. I said to my wife - look a catastrophe has happened. The last number I have heard is near or over 60’000 death. And this is probably not the end of it. But I have stopped trying to imagine anything behind those numbers. They are just numbers. 3000 dead on 911. 60’000 dead in Dafur. 30’000 dead in Iraq. 60’000 dead around the indian ocean and rising. I don’t claim that my reaction to all of this is sound or sensible. But I claim, that it is superior to one reaction: Rising fear. There is no need for us to start to develop even more fear because of a Tsunami. The chances of being hit by one in Switzerland are 0. The chances of Zurich being davasted by an earth quake are close to 0. The chances of the outbreak of civil war here are close to 0. The chances of our government being overthrown by a dictator are close to 0. The chances of being liberated by a super power are close to 0. Of course the chance of dying in a freak accident are non-zero. But that is not a reason for living in fear.

So am I just a cynic? I don’t want to think so. I will do my part to help the people that have suffered losses. But don’t excpect me to care for each one of them. It’s way beyond my threshold of caring.

Jens-Christian Fischer

Maker. Musician