Monday, April 16, 2007

Care to Distance

When I was in University Peter Mansbridge came for a visit with a handful of campus student leaders. He explained to us how they decided the order in which the news was delivered. If an event has the potential to effect you immediately then it goes first. If it is distant geographically or culturally then it will go down the line and may not even make the cut unless it's enormous like a tsunami or massive earthquake. It seems to me that there is an inverse relationship of care to distance (geographically or culturally).

Then there is the editorial decision of whether or not to interrupt local programming to report a news item. Again, if the event is immediately endangering or has the potential to affect people close to us or is sufficiently large then we may be interrupted to be told about it. The mass murder in Virginia today was serious enough to interrupt the programming of the news channels but not of the standard TV channels - unless of course you happened to be in Virginia where it likely intruded on most local programming.

It was a horrific setting no doubt and the ramifications of the day's events will be felt by the families and friends of the victims for the rest of their lives. Far away on the other side of the world about a hundred people are killed in and around Baghdad every single day but over here it might only be mentioned in the middle pages of the newspaper with a paragraph indicating that "Baghdad Market Bomb Kills 130" Massive Tsunamis and earthquakes like the ones that originated in the Pacific and in Pakistan last year are reported but they are done so almost pruriently because of their freakish or record breaking natures. The fact that millions were left homeless to suffer the subsequent Pakistan winters was almost completely ignored by the western media. Perhaps they are too geographically or culturally distant from us.

Imagine the heartbreak and stress that the people in Virginia are feeling today or the people of Montreal after the shootings at l'Ecole polytechnique. Now imagine experiencing events like these everyday for several years running without interruption. This is the plight of the survivors who remain in war zones in which they or their families could become victims at any moment. We just don't seem to care as much about people in distant lands and cultures. We can't. We're just not programmed for that. We have a natural inclination to care first about our tribe or village. It might be overwhelming to extend that care to the whole world.

These days we have near instant access to information so we learn of these human disasters whether or not an editor chooses to inform us. At the same time the new media also makes it easier for us to find commonality with people of far away and distant cultures. Our tribes or villages are no longer just the people that are geographically near us. Our tribe now includes people of distant lands, religions and cultures and their value is more appreciated. As we come to live in an increasingly global village the suffering of our fellow villagers may become unbearable to us whether they live down the street or in Baghdad or in Darfur.

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