Last night I was watching a TV show about people watching other TV shows. The show was called ‘Gogglebox’. One of the people on the show, a woman, was sitting with her family, watching a report about Remembrance Day…. where they remember the people who lost their lives during World War 2. Whilst the woman watched the segment, she remarked to her family: ‘It’s so sad, the war; and there are still wars going on now. People are still fighting. Why can’t we all just get along? When will we find peace?’*(Paraphrased) Shortly after, I switched my focus from the TV show to my mobile, to look at my Facebook news feed, and as I scrolled I saw a comment about an attack in Paris, then a BBC report of the same thing. I called David and said: ‘Did you hear that something happened in Paris, apparently within the last hour? There was a horrible attack, and a lot of people died. I don’t know much else, or who did it, but it seems that ISIS is suspected.’* He looked for more information, and suggested that I switch the TV station to BBC. Surely enough, they were reporting on it: Breaking News.
In that moment, I had a mix of feelings. Negative feelings at first, because so many people had died, normal people who were just going about their daily lives having fun. These were people, like me, who had hopes, dreams, families, plans…and then unexpectedly it was stolen from them. Positive feelings secondly: my loved ones are safe.
–The woman’s comment from Gogglebox replayed in my mind: When will we find peace? —
What struck me about the negativity I felt was that it was slightly more intense than it usually is when a tragedy occurs in another part of the world, and I realized that it felt different because it felt ‘here’. I’m in England now, next to France, within a European context, no longer in Trinidad. This time, I didn’t feel as isolated and distant from the horror… it felt very real; almost as if I could look out the window and see the sky light up a bloody red orange: the faint glow from bombs detonated in Paris. I felt a sense of horror, sadness and fear that I never felt before when such things happen. Usually, I’d be sad, yes, angry, yes, horrified even… but not afraid, and well honestly, less disturbed.
I considered what that said about me. Am I selfish? Perhaps. Is it wrong that I feel even more disturbed and horrified by this massacre now that it’s close; now that I’m actively appreciating commonality of geographic situation and circumstance? Perhaps it’s just that the scale of the attack is beyond that of before, but no, it’s not just that… attacks of an even grander scale have happened elsewhere before, and I felt sorry for the people, but not like this. I didn’t empathise in the way I empathise now. Should my sentiments be the same regardless of where I’m situated; regardless of my proximity to tragedy? Am I a bad person for feeling worse now?
But then I thought; perhaps wholesome sympathy is built on enhanced empathy. Perhaps the lesson isn’t that the pain I feel when others die should be the same regardless; but that I should search for greater ways, within reason, of situating myself within the experience of others. Sympathy is amplified when we can empathise more: when we can see the position of others and imagine the pain that they’re going through more realistically. Being in England allows me that. It’s easier to imagine the pain of those who we can identify points in common with, and so, I guess, my lack of idealistic sympathy stems not only from selfishness, but also from the fact that previously I was less able to place myself in the position of those who suffered. Being in Europe now, I have one more layer of relation to those in pain, and so my immediate empathy has raised a notch. With each added layer of similarity I find, with each added detail I know of those suffering, the greater I’ll be able to feel the pain… the more I’ll be able to scan my own experiences, find points of connection, and empathise in ways that are more real than imagined. As the stories pour out of those who died, and of their loved ones; as the information builds and I can identify more and more of the similarities between their human experience and my own, the stronger I’ll feel. I thought on this for a while… and I imagined how different I might be, or the world might be, if we situated ourselves more in the physical, cultural and emotional reality of others. Perhaps the more layers we uncover, the deeper we delve into how our current position relates to that of those who suffer, the closer we’ll get to appreciating the reality of suffering, and to answering the question of: ‘When will we find peace?’ with ‘Soon’.