A tragic perspective

A couple weeks ago, I purchased In the Heart of the Sea, a nonfiction book about the Essex, a whaling ship that was attacked by a sperm whale. While I had heard the essence of the story many times, the book offered an in-depth look at the harrowing survival of the crew, a fight for their lives that lead to cannibalism amongst other horrors.

I read the book in only a few days, spending a good four hours of a Saturday morning finishing it. As I closed the book and digested the surreal tale I had just read, I paused and fell into a deep, philosophical state. I pondered my own troubles, petty problems that pale in comparison to the ones that the crew of the Essex faced.

Perspective.

On the afternoon of Mon April 15, I pulled into my driveway after a four and a half hour long car ride from my future alma mater, Marist College. As I stepped into my house, struggling as I carried my suitcase, bombs exploded hundreds of miles away at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. After instinctively checking my twitter feed for updates, I flipped on the television. Plastered across every news station were scenes from the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of a few, but affected millions. I turned off the television, stepped outside and walked down the street to play street hockey.

Perspective.

Earlier this week, tornadoes ripped across Oklahoma, claiming the lives of over 20 people, including children. As the tornadoes spawned from the tempest stricken sky, I ate tortilla chips with a friend in my basement and watched a sitcom.

“Man, that’s awful.” “It’s terrible.” “Such a shame.” “How unfortunate.” “What a tragedy.”

Months ago in December, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 children and six faculty members. As the news appeared on my twitter feed during class, I placed my phone back in my pocket due to school policy. Though depressed, I trudged through the rest of my relatively simple day, with the exception of a hockey game.

As we eat, sleep, walk the dog, shower, drive to work, and fight with the in-laws, thousands globally are coping with unimaginable horrors. A suicide bomber walks into a marketplace in Baghdad, detonating the bomb strapped across his chest, instantly killing himself and the others around him. A school bus falls off a bridge in India. A fertilizer plant explodes in Texas.

And the media, with every new day, usually casts aside many of these events in order to provide more coverage of new tragedies. Each day, Americans can sit down on their couch with their coffee and toast and hone on a daily new “series of unfortunate events.” America almost thrives on it.

It has often been said that Americans have a bad memory, especially in terms of politics. This cliché is applicable to the facet of the media, where it seems as though “out of sight, out of mind” is a dominant force in a society where a short attention span is prevalent.

How much coverage should the media give these events anyway? I distinctly remember being appalled by the media’s handling of the Sandy Hook shooting, the way reporters approached students was uncalled for. The Boston Marathon bombings also exemplifies this ongoing problem with media coverage as errors were commonplace in breaking news on many major networks.

But I digress. Regardless of the dramatized, often skewed depiction of events by the media, America is as resilient as they come. While our perspectives vary, they often times diverge, a phenomenon called empathy.

Americans do not forget these tragedies, insomuch as they progress and move on. If Americans decided to expend all of their time and effort into the problems of others (an extraordinarily altruistic act), Americans would be unhappy, as any human would. To make sense of these senseless acts, we allocate attention and focus in order to remember.

So, the next time you hear of a tragic event, regardless of the magnitude or relative severity, pause. Pause and not only become consciously aware of those affected, but aware of yourself and your perspective.