One Little Black Girl Can Explain Why You Feel Indiferent to Mass Suffering

“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is just a statistic.”

Photo by Michael Mims on Unsplash

I sat down to one of the first classes of my Journalism degree at university. That day we were learning writing techniques, and I still remember the professor saying:

“Give a face to every situation. Readers can not process numbers, but they can feel empathy with another human being.”

This is because of “psychic numbing.” The term, coined by psychologist Paul Slovic, draws from the fact that people can relate to the suffering of another person, but feel indifferent to the suffering of large numbers of people.

This quote, attributed to Staline, makes it very clear:

“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is just a statistic.”

In 2017, the United Nations calculated that about 65 million people were displaced from their homes worldwide, an all-time high in the history of asylum seekers. Think about it for a minute. 65 million people. Can you imagine that? Can you begin to comprehend what it means? You can try, but you will not succeed. Those 65 million people are a number, they are statistics.

But what if I told you that the little girl from the picture above lost her mother to a terrorist group and is now trying to escape her home country, devastated by war, with her father, walking 50 km each day, with very little to eat and drink? Now, your heart felt something, right?

The same way we know racism exists, we have known it for decades. Yet, we feel indifferent to it, most of the time — if we are not affected by it.

“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

— Mother Teresa

But we can not feel indifferent to a black man being murdered by a police officer in a cruel, cold, pointless way. We don’t feel indifferent to George Floyd. We don’t feel indifferent to his story, to the injustice he suffered. We feel empathy with him, we want to get him justice. We are all George Floyd.

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