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American compassion: Lying in the shambles of South Asia

Currently trending on the Internet: a deer photobombed a sleeping baby; a man was stabbed to death for taking the last piece of chicken; a woman’s engagement ring is made from her fiancé’s wisdom tooth.

These are the things that matter to Americans today.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, 12 Afghan schoolgirls died in a stampede of evacuating students. A 65-year-old woman suffered a heart attack after feeling the earth shift beneath her feet. Entire cities collapsed, 1,0000 were wounded and at least 260 lost their lives. The “lucky” individuals were left with their lives in shambles. On Monday, Oct. 26, a powerful magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck the remote Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and had resounding effects in Pakistan, India and Uzbekistan.

This is what should matter to Americans today.

In a generation of increasingly self-involved individuals, our society’s sensitivity is as much a mess as the post-quake landscape of South Asia. We are constantly checking devices, obsessed with our friends’ latest Snapchat stories, the raunchiest YikYak post, or the newest episode of Scandal. Despite parading around under the guise of enlightenment, Stanford students are no better, feigning compassion with ardent discussions of issues on campus yet failing to recognize what happens outside the Bubble.

The question arises of where such rampant insensitivity originates. Media outlets define what matters to viewers and have evolved in such a way that they prioritize the attention-grabbing over the meaningful. We live in a world that devotes more coverage to what Kate Middleton wore to the gym than to the demolition of nations and destruction of lives on the other side of the globe. It’s no wonder Americans today are more concerned with superficialities than substantive happenings.

Ask someone on the street – whether in or outside the Stanford Bubble – about the earthquakes in South Asia. They are probably unaware the natural disaster even happened. Then ask them whether they think Adele’s new song, “Hello,” sounds like “Trap Queen,” and they will have a ready answer. We hear about atrocities overseas and are momentarily sympathetic; we see Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie and are talking about it for days.

That’s not to say that there are no news reports of significant world events. With a 24/7 inundation of information on television screens, the Internet and in the palm of our hands, death and distress have become overdone in the eyes of Americans. News outlets sensationalize school shootings, human rights abuses and natural disasters overseas, belittling human life and desensitizing us to the pain of others. We pay to see human slaughter in horror movies and spend our free time playing video games that trivialize drugs, prostitution and murder.

What used to be a story of devastation has become just another event in the news. It’s just another negative stereotype perpetuated. It’s just another family destroyed. It’s just another life lost.

The quakes are just another article to scroll past. Though many Americans are still ignorant of the fact that the quakes in South Asia occurred, there have been countless articles published in the last week alone; in fact, the click of a button can bring us to images of a woman being rushed to the local hospital, a dying man in Pakistan and a survivor inspecting his fallen home. We become privy to intimate images of suffering so often that we just don’t care anymore.

Do not scroll past this article. Do not read about the insensitivity, endure a moment of sympathetic silence, and then become distracted by your Twitter feed. Do something about it. A culture molds itself to the actions of its people, and as such, the culture of American media can be shaped to our values. Stop giving credence to the artificialities of pop culture, empathize with the suffering of others, share your knowledge, create movements that make change for the victims of everyday atrocities.

In the same way that the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Uzbekistan will rise from the shambles of their crumbled cities, the American populace can — and more importantly, must — rise from the shambles of its abandoned compassion.

 

Contact Tashrima Hossain at thossain ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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