I’M very curious about the issue of Jack the cat, who went missing before a flight from New York to California in August, sparking a severe social network backlash against American Airlines.
The cat had been checked in as cargo but at some point he got out, and owner Karen Pascoe was told that the cat had been lost in the baggage claim area. At first the airline was rather nonchalant about poor old Jack. But when Karen’s sister posted a plea on Facebook, the story went viral.
The airline subsequently launched a frantic hunt and pulled out all stops in a bid to avoid a massive PR disaster as thousands upon thousands of people joined the Facebook site in support and protest, and became Jack followers on Twitter. There were reports of a cat detective being sent by the airline to find the feline, and of people voluntarily going to JFK to search.
In these days of armchair activism, where one person can literally bring down a company, AA spared no expense in its renewed efforts, flying Karen Pascoe to New York and attending to her every whim as she and other stalwarts searched for the cat. There were daily briefings to review progress and generate ideas for locating Jack, with representatives from the Port Authority of New York in attendance. Extensive CCTV footage was viewed.
Being an animal lover, it’s of no surprise to me that I was horrified that the airline had lost Jack. But I keep being haunted by the question: Why did I react this way when stories of what’s going on in Africa stir feelings, but not the same outrage? Why will people act to bring down an airline over a lost cat and yet won’t bring down a government or two over children crawling through the sand in search of food and water?
Perhaps it’s an empathy issue. Africa is too far away from our own day-to-day reality, whereas anyone can empathise with the loss of a pet. Or maybe we can
be stirred by the plight of one child
with a name and a story, but the idea of starving millions is so beyond our comprehension, we shut down? Perhaps the empathic mind only has the capacity for compassion if it can comprehend the scale of the tragedy?
At any rate, the Jack story has reminded me that human catastrophes deserve the same outrage and action — even if it’s as simple as donating $50 to a worthy charity. I just sent money to this one: www.savethechildren.org.au.
I am wondering whether other people have an inability to connect with humanitarian crises yet would rally passionately to save a condemned pet or a beautiful old tree in their street that was about to be hacked down.
Share your ideas and thoughts about this story on my blog.