On sorrow (in response to the 2015 Paris attacks)

This post was first published on my personal Facebook page the day after the Paris terrorist attacks. It was written in response to many posts that criticized the seemingly selective outpouring for grief for the victims of that attack.

While I understand some of the reactions on social media that derided the seeming bias of caring/showing you care about Paris but not about other recent tragedies in Beirut, Baghdad, Sinai or Ankara, and while there is probably a certainly level of familiarity-bias (and even social media-driven herd mentality) at play, it's equally important not to belittle this specific tragedy, blame people for reacting in this way (who knows what the reasons are - some have personal connections to Paris, friends/family there, some do not) or immediately compare it to other tragedies. Sorrow, loss and shock should always be approached on its own terms, not compared or relativized, regardless of how, why and when it hits a person (just think of how you'd approach the sorrow of a friend who'd recently lost a loved one - would it be fair to immediately compare it to other losses?).

Universal compassion that extends to all human beings and all tragedies is something we should all strive for - and if we identify biases in ourselves, we should always seek to challenge them - but the reality of this is that it's extremely hard, perhaps psychologically speaking impossible (we grow up in a group and with a certain set of attachments from the familial to the national and beyond), and doing so should not come by means of a rejection of THIS pain and THIS specific tragedy.

Everyone has a right to respond to something that shocks them in whatever way they see fit - they should not be told that this is wrong because it's too narrow, too parochial and doesn't somehow carry the weight of all human tragedy on its shoulders. Even if you extend this to all the recent, horrific ISIS attacks, it's still a tall order for most people who have limited emotional capacity to take in and respond to every tragedy that hits their television screens on a near-daily basis these days. This is both a product of our increasingly mad world, but also simply a reflection of human psychology and how human beings respond to shock and sorrow, especially when it occurs at a distance and at a tragic scale.

Again, I'm not trying to justify this bias here and I do think it's extremely important to try to challenge this within ourselves, to recognize how media and politics impact it, and to extend our love and compassion to all suffering beings (regardless of where a tragedy occurs). I just don't find this kind of finger-pointing very helpful or indeed fair.

On benchmarks (and who gets to set them)