Displays of Grief

The recent shootings at VT, while horrific, did not affect many persons where I live. A few people had relatives there, or friends and acquaintances.

Yet there was this widespread sense that they personally were saddened, grieving. Grief counselors were offered to the entire student body of some of the local colleges. Moments of silence were held.

Yet that day, several times as many people died in Baghdad, innocent victims of a car bomb. More people died in a senseless bus wreck in SE Asia. And far more Americans died of hunger or preventable illness.

Yet they recieved no notice at all.

If it was just foreigners, we could claim that it was nationalism that caused the discrepancy. But it’s not. Further, we saw this same outpouring with the tsunami at Christmastime in 2005. So what can explain this puzzling behavior?

The outpouring of displays of grief (note the word “displays”) serve as visual status markers to show how caring we are (individually and as a society), while not requiring ANY cost of actually doing something. If we grieved for the 150 killed in a car bombing in Baghdad, or the 20k civilians killed by our bombs or those killed by our greed, or lack of donations… well, we’d be compelled to do something.

Quite a few people take that challenge – but society at large does not. But here is a way that everyone in society can show what a caring, sensitive person they are – and not feel obliged to do a damn thing.

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