Thursday, March 10, 2011

Where Has the Empathy Gone?

If you saw a lady fall into a fountain at a shopping mall, what would you do?

I know what I’d do: I’d run to the fountain, help her fish herself out of the water and then try to find something with which she could dry off. I’d get mall security, maybe an ambulance, or, at minimum, at least help the poor woman to her car, assessing all the while if she were fit to drive and more likely than not trying to find someone to drive her instead.

What if you just watched the viral video of her falling? And what if you laughed at it?

I know I did.

I’m a big fan of watching those “funny fall” videos on YouTube, along with the police chases, the car crashes, the battles with meth heads and trailer trash.

I’m a jerk.

Luke O’Neil, writing at, has this to say about such jerks:
Most of us are Internet bullies now, some of us more active than others. Spend any time online, and you'll recognize that the worst way to react to stories like this, or anything else embarrassing, is to defend yourself or the people you know. There's always some sap in the comments saying, "This isn't funny, that's a real person with real feelings." Well, yeah, but they aren't my feelings, so ... To show such concern on the Internet is a sign of weakness; it's called being "butthurt." Now I've found myself in the awkward position of being butthurt myself. I'm acting like troll bait, and it's an uncomfortable place to be.
He’s writing this because his first childhood friend is now an Internet laughingstock and he realized, maybe for the first time, that behind all the funny videos, the falls, the splats, the lameness, the ugly faces, the tattoos and the stupid crimes, these are real people. While we’re laughing at their misfortune, someone, somewhere, is crying over it.

All of us should be. These are our brothers and sisters, after all.

Why is it some images of nastiness stick with me, popping into my head at odd hours, giving me the shivers (I’ll never forgive – nor forget – George Will for writing about Nazi solders walking around with bayoneted Jewish babies on their guns, still moaning softly, still dying, as the soldiers marched). Yet there are images not as painful, yet still humiliating, debasing, cruel, that I could watch over and over and over again. And chuckle every time.

Where, indeed, has the empathy gone?

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